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Title: Nature Mysticism

Author: J. Edward Mercer

Release Date: June 9, 2006 [EBook #18539]

Language: English

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The aims of this study of Nature Mysticism, and the methods
adopted for attaining them, are sufficiently described in the
introductory chapter. It may be said, by way of special preface,
that the nature mystic here portrayed is essentially a "modern."
He is assumed to have accepted the fundamentals of the
hypothesis of evolution. Accordingly, his sympathy with the
past is profound: so also is his sense of the reality and
continuity of human development, physical, psychic, and
mystical. Moreover, he tries to be abreast of the latest critical
and scientific conclusions. Imperfections manifold will be
discovered in the pages that follow; but the author asks that a
percentage of them may be attributed to the difficulties of
writing in Tasmania and publishing at the antipodes.

J. E. M.

Bishop's Court, Hobart,
_March_, 1912.


Chapter I.      Introductory                              1
Chapter II.     Nature, and the Absolute                  7
Chapter III.    Mystic Intuition and Reason               15
Chapter IV.     Man and Nature                            23
Chapter V.      Mystic Receptivity                        30
Chapter VI.     Development and Discipline of Intuition   38
Chapter VII.    Nature not Symbolic                       45
Chapter VIII.   The Charge of Anthropomorphism            54
Chapter IX.     The Immanent Idea                         65
Chapter X.      Animism, Ancient and Modern               71
Chapter XI.     Will and Consciousness in Nature          79
Chapter XII.    Mythology                                 90
Chapter XIII.   Poetry and Nature Mysticism               97
Chapter XIV.    The Beautiful and the Ugly                106
Chapter XV.     Nature Mysticism and the Race             117
Chapter XVI.    Thales                                    123
Chapter XVII.   The Waters under the Earth                129
Chapter XVIII.  Springs and Wells                         138
Chapter XIX.    Brooks and Streams                        145
Chapter XX.     Rivers and Life                           151
Chapter XXI.    Rivers and Death                          158
Chapter XXII.   The Ocean                                 165
Chapter XXIII.  Waves                                     172
Chapter XXIV.   Still Waters                              179
Chapter XXV.    Anaximenes and the Air                    187
Chapter XXVI.   Winds and Clouds                          192
Chapter XXVII.  Heracleitus and the Cosmic Fire           203
Chapter XXVIII. Fire and the Sun                          211
Chapter XXIX.   Light and Darkness                        222
Chapter XXX.    The Expanse of Heaven--Colour             228
Chapter XXXI.   The Moon--A Special Problem               235
Chapter XXXII.  Earth, Mountains, and Plains              242
Chapter XXXIII. Seasons, Vegetation, Animals              248
Chapter XXXIV.  Pragmatic                                 257



A wave of Mysticism is passing over the civilised nations. It is
welcomed by many: by more it is mistrusted. Even the minds to
which it would naturally appeal are often restrained from
sympathy by fears of vague speculative driftings and of
transcendental emotionalism. Nor can it be doubted that such an
attitude of aloofness is at once reasonable and inevitable. For a
systematic exaltation of formless ecstasies, at the expense of
sense and intellect, has a tendency to become an infirmity if it
does not always betoken loss of mental balance. In order,
therefore, to disarm natural prejudice, let an opening chapter be
devoted to general exposition of aims and principles.

The subject is Nature Mysticism. The phenomena of "nature"
are to be studied in their mystical aspects. The wide term
Mysticism is used because, in spite of many misleading
associations, it is hard to replace. "Love of nature" is too
general: "cosmic emotion" is too specialised. But let it at once
be understood that the Mysticism here contemplated is neither
of the popular nor of the esoteric sort. In other words, it is not
loosely synonymous with the magical or supernatural; nor is it a
name for peculiar forms of ecstatic experience which claim to
break away from the spheres of the senses and the intellect. It
will simply be taken to cover the causes and the effects involved
in that wide range of intuitions and emotions which nature
stimulates without definite appeal to conscious reasoning
processes. Mystic intuition and mystic emotion will thus be
regarded, not as antagonistic to sense impression, but as
dependent on it--not as scornful of reason, but merely as more
basic and primitive.

Science describes nature, but it cannot _feel_ nature; still less
can it account for that sense of kinship with nature which is so
characteristic of many of the foremost thinkers of the day. For
life is more and more declaring itself to be something fuller
than a blind play of physical forces, however complex and
sublimated their interactions. It reveals a ceaseless striving--an
_elan vital_ (as Bergson calls it) to expand and enrich the forms
of experience--a reaching forward to fuller beauty and more
perfect order.

A certain amount of metaphysical discussion will be necessary;
but it will be reduced to the minimum compatible with
coherency. Fortunately, Nature Mysticism can be at home with
diverse world-views. There is, however, one exception--the
world-view which is based on the concept of an Unconditioned
Absolute. This will be unhesitatingly rejected as subversive of
any genuine "communion" with nature. So also Symbolism will
be repudiated on the ground that it furnishes a quite inadequate
account of the relation of natural phenomena to the human
mind. The only metaphysical theory adopted, as a generalised
working basis, is that known as Ideal-Realism. It assumes three
spheres of existence--that which in a peculiar sense is _within_
the individual mind: that which in a peculiar sense is _without_
(external to) the individual mind: and that in which these two
are fused or come into living contact. It will be maintained, as a
thesis fundamental to Nature Mysticism, that the world of
external objects must be essentially of the same essence as the
perceiving minds. The bearing of these condensed statements
will become plain as the phenomena of nature are passed in
review. Of formal theology there will be none.

The more certain conclusions of modern science, including the
broader generalisations of the hypothesis of evolution, will be
assumed. Lowell, in one of his sonnets, says:

    "I grieve not that ripe knowledge takes away
        The charm that nature to my childhood wore
    For, with that insight cometh, day by day,
        A greater bliss than wonder was before:
    The real doth not clip the poet's wings;
        To win the secret of a weed's plain heart
    Reveals some clue to spiritual things,
        And stumbling guess becomes firm-rooted art."

Admirable--as far as it goes! But the modern nature-mystic
cannot rest content with the last line. The aim of nature-insight
is not art, however firm-rooted; for art is, so to speak, a
secondary product, a reflection. The goal of the nature-mystic is
actual living communion with the Real, in and through its
sensuous manifestations.

Nature Mysticism, as thus conceived, does not seek to glorify
itself above other modes of experience and psychic activity. The
partisanship of the theological or of the transcendental type is
here condemned. Nor will there be an appeal to any ecstatic
faculty which can only be the vaunted appanage of the few. The
appeal will lie to faculties which are shared in some degree by
all normal human beings, though they are too often neglected, if
not disparaged. Rightly developed, the capacity for entering into
communion with nature is not only a source of the purest
pleasure, but a subtle and powerful agent in aiding men to
realise some of the noblest potentialities of their being.

When treating of specific natural phenomena, the exposition
demands proof and illustration. In certain chapters, therefore,
quotations from the prose and poetry of those ancients and
moderns who, avowedly or unavowedly, rank as nature-mystics,
are freely introduced. These extracts form an integral part of the
study, because they afford direct evidence of the reality, and of
the continuity, of the mystical faculty as above defined.

The usual method of procedure will be to trace the influence of
certain selected natural phenomena on the human mind, first in
the animistic stage, then in the mythological stage, and lastly in
the present, with a view to showing that there has been
a genuine and living development of deep-seated nature
intuitions. But this method will not be too strictly followed.
Special subjects will meet with special treatment, and needless
repetition will be carefully avoided. The various chapters, as far
as may be, will not only present new themes, but will approach
the subject at different angles.

It is obvious that severe limitations must be imposed in the
selection from so vast a mass of material. Accordingly, the
phenomena of Water, Air, and Fire have received the fullest
attention--the first of the triad getting the lion's share; but
other marked features of the physical universe have not been
altogether passed by. The realm of organic life--vegetable and
animal--does not properly fall within the limits of this study.
For where organised life reveals itself, men find it less difficult
to realise their kinship with existences other than human. The
curious, and still obscure, history of totemism supplies abundant
evidence on this point; and not less so that modern sympathy
with all living things, which is largely based on what may be
termed the new totemism of the Darwinian theory. But while
attention will thus be focussed on the sphere of the inorganic,
seemingly so remote from human modes of experience, some
attempt will nevertheless be made to suggest the inner
harmonies which link together all modes of existence. A further
limitation to be noted is that "nature" will be taken to cover only
such natural objects as remain in what is generally called their
"natural" condition--that is, which are independent of, and
unaffected by, human activities.

Let Goethe, in his Faust hymn, tell what is the heart and essence
of Nature Mysticism as here to be expounded and defended.

    "Rears not the heaven its arch above?
        Doth not the firm-set earth beneath us lie?
    And with the tender gaze of love
        Climb not the everlasting stars on high?
        Do I not gaze upon thee, eye to eye?
    And all the world of sight and sense and sound,
        Bears it not in upon thy heart and brain,
    And mystically weave around
        Thy being influences that never wane?"



As just stated, metaphysics and theology are to be avoided. But
since Mysticism is generally associated with belief in an
Unconditioned Absolute, and since such an Absolute is fatal to
the claims of any genuine Nature Mysticism, a preliminary
flying incursion into the perilous regions must be ventured.

Mysticism in its larger sense is admittedly difficult to define. It
connotes a vast group of special experiences and speculations
which deal with material supposed to be beyond the reach of
sense and reason. It carries us back to the strangely illusive
"mysteries" of the Greeks, but is more definitely used in
connection with the most characteristic subtleties of the wizard
East, and with certain developments of the Platonic philosophy.
Extended exposition is not required. Suffice it to state what may
fairly be regarded as the three fundamental principles, or
doctrines, on which mystics of the orthodox schools generally
depend. These principles will be subjected to a free but friendly
criticism: considerable modifications will be suggested, and the
way thus prepared for the study of Nature Mysticism properly

The three principles alluded to are the following. First, the true
mystic is one possessed by a desire to have communion with the
ultimately Real. Second, the ultimately Real is to be regarded as
a supersensuous, super-rational, and unconditional Absolute--
the mystic One. Third, the direct communion for which the
mystic yearns--the _unio mystica_--cannot be attained save by
passive contemplation, resulting in vision, insight, or ecstasy.

With a view to giving a definite and concrete turn to the critical
examination of these three fundamentals, let us take a passage
from a recently published booklet. The author tells how that on
a certain sunny afternoon he flung himself down on the bank of
a brimming mill-stream. The weir was smoothly flowing: the
mill-wheel still. He meditates on the scene and concludes thus:
"Perhaps we are never so receptive as when with folded hands
we say simply, 'This is a great mystery.' I watched and
wondered until Jem called, and I had to leave the rippling weir
and the water's side, and the wheel with its untold secret."

There are certain forms, or modes, of experience here presented
which are at least mystical in their tendency--the sense of a
deeper reality than that which can be grasped by conscious
reason--a desire to penetrate a secret that will not yield itself to
articulate thought and which nevertheless leaves a definite
impress on the mind. There is also a recognition of the passive
attitude which the ordinary mystic doctrine avers to be essential
to vision. Will these features warrant our regarding the
experiences as genuinely mystical?

The answer to this question brings into bold relief a vital
difference between orthodox mystics and those here called
nature-mystics, and raises the issue on which the very existence
of a valid Nature Mysticism must depend. The stricter schools
would unhesitatingly refuse to accord to such experiences the
right to rank with those which result in true insight. Why?
Because they obviously rest on sense impressions. An English
mystic, for example, states in a recent article that Mysticism is
always and necessarily extra-phenomenal, and that the man who
tries to elucidate the visible by means of the invisible is no true
mystic; still less, of course, the man who tries to elucidate the
invisible by means of the visible. The true mystic, he says, fixes
his eyes on eternity and the infinite; he loses himself when he
becomes entangled in the things of time, that is, in the
phenomenal. Still more explicit is the statement of a famous
modern Yogi. "This world is a delusive charm of the great
magician called Maya. . . . Maya has imagined infinite illusions
called the different things in the universe. . . . The minds which
have not attained to the Highest, and are a prey to natural
beauties in the stage of Maya, will continually have to turn into
various forms, from one to another, because nothing in the stage
of Maya is stable." Nor would the Christian mystics allow of
any intermediaries between the soul and God; they most of
them held that the soul must rise above the things of sense,
mount into another sphere, and be "alone with the Alone."

What, then, is the concept of the ultimately Real which these
stricter mystics have evolved and are prepared to defend? It is
that of pure and unconditioned Being--the One--the Absolute.
By a ruthless process of abstraction they have abjured the world
of sense to vow allegiance to a mode of being of which nothing
can be said without denying it. For even to allow a shadow of
finiteness in the Absolute is to negate it; to define it is to
annihilate it! It swallows up all conditions and relations without
becoming any more knowable; it embraces everything and
remains a pure negation. It lies totally and eternally beyond the
reach of man's faculties and yet demands his perfect and
unreasoning surrender. A concept, this, born of the brains of
logical Don Quixotes.

And it is for such a monstrous abstraction we are asked to give
up the full rich world of sense, with all it means to us. It is
surely not an intellectual weakness to say: "Tell us what you
will of existence above and beyond that which is known to us;
but do not deny some measure of ultimate Reality to that which
falls within our ken. Leave us not alone with the Absolute of the
orthodox mystic, or we perish of inanity! Clearly the _elan
vital_--the will to live--gives us a more hopeful starting-point in
our search for the Real. Clearly the inexhaustible variety of the
universe of sense need not be dubbed an illusion to save the
consistency of a logic which has not yet succeeded in grasping
its own first principles. No, the rippling weir and the mill-wheel
were real in their own degree, and the intuitions and emotions
they prompted were the outcome of a contact between the inner
and the outer--a _unio mystica_--a communion between the
soul of a man and the soul in the things he saw.

"But" (says the orthodox mystic) "there is a special form of
craving--the craving for the Infinite. Man cannot find rest
save in communion with a supreme Reality free from all
imperfections and limitations; and such a Reality can be found
in nothing less than the Unconditioned Absolute." Now we may
grant the existence and even the legitimacy of the craving thus
emphatically asserted while questioning the form which it is
made to assume. The man gazing at the mill-wheel longed to
know its secret. Suppose he had succeeded! We think of
Tennyson's "little flower in the crannied wall." We think of
Blake's lines:

    "To see the world in a grain of sand,
        And a heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
        And eternity in an hour."

Is it really necessary to forsake the finite to reach the infinite--
whatever that term may be taken to mean? Do we not often
better realise the infinity of the sky by looking at it through the
twigs of a tree?

For the craving itself, in its old mystic form, we can have
nothing but sympathy. Some of its expressions are wonderfully
touching, but their pathos must not blind us to the maimed
character of the world-view on which they rest. Grant that the
sphere of sense is limited and therefore imperfect, let it at any
rate be valid up to the limit it does actually attain. The rippling
weir and the mill-wheel did produce some sort of effect upon
the beholder, and therefore must have been to that extent real.
What do we gain by flinging away the chance to learn, even
though the gain be small? And if, as the nature-mystic claims,
the gain be great, the folly is proportionately intensified.

Coleridge is quoted as an exponent of the feeling of the stricter

        "It were a vain endeavour,
        Though I should gaze for ever
    On the green light that lingers in the West;
    I may not hope from outward forms to win
    The passion and the life whose fountains are within."

This, however, is too gentle and hesitating, too tinged with love
of nature, to convey the fierce conviction of the consistent
devotee of the Absolute, of the defecated transparency of pure
Being. If, as is urged by Recejac, we find among some of the
stricter mystics a very deep and naive feeling for nature, such
feeling can only be a sign of inconsistency, a yielding to the
solicitations of the lower nature. Granted their premisses, the
world of sense can teach nothing. It is well to face this issue
squarely--let the mystic choose, either the Absolute and Maya,
or a Ground of existence which can allow value to nature, and
which therefore admits of limitations. Or, if there is to be a
compromise, let it be on the lines laid down by Spinoza and
Schelling. That is to say, let the name God be reserved for the
phenomenal aspect of the Absolute. But the nature-mystic will
be wise if he discards compromise, and once for all repudiates
the Unconditioned Absolute. His reason can then chime in with
his intuitions and his deepest emotions. He loses nothing; he
gains intellectual peace and natural joy.

The never-ceasing influence of the genuine Real is bound to
declare itself sooner or later. Buddhism itself is yielding, as
witness this striking pronouncement of the Buddhist Lord
Abbot, Soyen Shaku. "Buddhism does not, though sometimes
understood by Western people to do so, advocate the doctrine of
emptiness or annihilation. It most assuredly recognises the
multi-tudinousness and reality of phenomena. This world as it
is, is real, not void. This life, as we live it, is true, and not
a dream. We Buddhists believe that all these particular things
surrounding us come from one Ultimate Source, all-knowing
and all-loving. The world is the manifestation of this Reason, or
Spirit, or Life, whatever you may designate it. However diverse,
therefore, things are, they all partake of the nature of the
Ultimate Being. Not only sentient beings, but non-sentient,
reflect the glory of the Original Reason."

Assuredly a comforting passage to set over against that of the
Yogi quoted above! But is not the good Abbot a little hard on
the Westerners? For the full truth is that while the Yogi
represents the old Absolutism, the Abbot is feeling his way to a
wider and more human world-view. Buddhism has evidently
better days in store. Let our views of ultimate Reality be what
they may, the nature-mystic's position demands not only that
man may hold communion with nature, but that, in and through
such communion, he is in living touch with the Ground of



So much for the nature-mystic's relation to the concept of the
Absolute. It would be interesting to discuss, from the same
point of view, his relations to the rival doctrines of the monists,
dualists, and pluralists. But to follow up these trails with any
thoroughness would lead us too far into the thickets and
quagmires of metaphysics. Fortunately the issues are not nearly
so vital as in the case of the Absolute; and they may thus be
passed by without serious risk of invalidating subsequent
conclusions. It may be worth our while, however, to note that
many modern mystics are not monists, and that the supposed
inseparable connection between Mysticism and Monism is
being thrown overboard. Even the older mystics, when wrestling
with the problem of evil, were dualists in their own
despite. Of the moderns, so representative a thinker as Lotze
suggested that Reality may run up, not into one solitary peak,
but into a mountain chain. Hoeffding contends that we have not
yet gained the right to career rough-shod over the antinomies of
existence. James, a typical modern mystic, was an avowed
pluralist. Bergson emphasises the category of Becoming, and, if
to be classed at all, is a dualist. Thus the nature-mystic is happy
in the freedom to choose his own philosophy, so long as he
avoids the toils of the Absolute. For, as James remarks,
"oneness and manyness are absolutely co-ordinate. Neither is
primordial or more excellent than the other."

It remains, then, to subject to criticism the third principle of
Mysticism, that of intuitional insight as a mode of knowing
independent of the reasoning faculties, at any rate in their
conscious exercise. Its root idea is that of directness and
immediacy; the word itself prepares us for some power of
apprehending at a glance--a power which dispenses with all
process and gains its end by a flash. A higher stage is known as
vision; the highest is known as ecstasy. Intuition has its own
place in general psychology, and has acquired peculiar
significance in the domains of aesthetics, ethics, and theology;
and the same root idea is preserved throughout--that of
immediacy of insight. The characteristic of passivity on which
certain mystics would insist is subsidiary--even if it is to be
allowed at all. Its claims will be noted later.

Now Nature Mysticism is based on sense perception, and this in
itself is a form of intuition. It is immediate, for the "matter" of
sensation presents itself directly to the consciousness affected; it
simply asserts itself. It is independent of the conscious exercise
of the reasoning powers. It does not even permit of the
distinction between subject and object; it comes into the mind
as "a given." When conscious thought grips this "given," it can
put it into all manner of relations with other "givens." It may
even to some extent control the course of subsequent sensations
by the exercise of attention and in accordance with a conscious
purpose. But thought cannot create a sensation. The sensation is
thus at the base of all mental life. It furnishes material for the
distinction between subject and object--between the outer and
the inner. The conscious processes, thus primed, rise through
the various stages of contemplation, reflection, abstraction,
conception, and reasoning.

The study of sense perception is thus seen to be a study of
primary mystical intuition. But the similarity, or essential bond,
between the two may be worked at a deeper level. When an
external object stimulates a sensation, it produces a variety of
changes in the mind of the percipient. Most of these may remain
in the depths of subconscious mental life, but they are none the
less real as effectual agents of change. Now what is here
implied? The external object has somehow or other got "inside"
the percipient mind--has penetrated to it, and modified it.
In other words, a form of mystical communion has been
established. The object has penetrated into the mind, and the
mind has come into living touch with the Real external to itself.
The object and the subject are to this extent fused in a mystic
union. How could the fusion take place unless the two were
linked in some fundamental harmony of being? Other and
higher modes of mystical union may be experienced; but sense
perception contains them all in germ. How vain, then, the
absolutist's attempt to sever himself from the sphere of sense!

Intuition, we have seen, must be deemed to be independent of
conscious reasoning processes. But this is not to say that it is
independent of reason, either objectively or subjectively. Not
objectively, for if the world is a cosmos, it must be rationally
constituted. Not subjectively, for man's reasoning faculties may
influence many of his mental activities without rising to the
level of reflective ratiocination. And thus man's communion
with the cosmos, of which he is himself a part, will be grounded
in the reason which permeates the whole.

If we go on to ask what is the relation between intuition and
conscious reflective processes, the answer would seem to be
somewhat of this kind. "Intuition, in its wide sense, furnishes
material; reason works it up. Intuition moves about in worlds
not systematised; reason reduces them to order. Reflective
thought dealing with the phenomena presented to it by sensation
has three tasks before it--to find out the nature of the objects, to
trace their causes, and to trace their effects. And whereas each
intuitional experience stands alone and isolated in its
immediacy, reason groups these single experiences together,
investigates their conditions, and makes them subserve definite
conscious purposes.

But if mystics have too often made the mistake of underrating
the powers and functions of reflective reason, the champions of
logic have also been guilty of the counter-mistake of
disparaging intuition, more especially that called mystical. That
is to say, the _form_ of thought is declared to be superior to the
_matter_ of thought--a truly remarkable contention! What is
reason if it has no material to work up? And whence comes the
material but from sensation and intuition? Moreover, even when
the material is furnished to the reasoning processes, the
conclusions arrived at have to be brought continuously and
relentlessly to the bar, not only of physical fact, but also to that
of intuition and sentiment, if serious errors are to be avoided.
Systematising and speculative zeal have a tendency to run ahead
of their data.

Bergson has done much to restore to intuition the rights which
were being filched or wrenched from it. He has shown (may it
be said conclusively?) that systematised thought is quite
unequal to grappling with the processes which constitute actual
living. Before him, Schopenhauer had poured well-deserved
contempt on the idea that the brain, an organ which can only
work for a few hours at a stretch, and is dependent on all the
accidents of the physical condition of the body, should be
considered equal to solving the problems of existence.
"Certainly" (writes Schwegler) "the highest truths of reason, the
eternal, the divine, are not to be proved by means of
demonstration." But this is no less true of the simplest
manifestations of reality. Knowledge is compelled to move on
the surface when it aims at scientific method and demonstrated
results. Intuitive knowledge can often penetrate deeper, get
nearer to the heart of things and divine their deeper relations.
When intuitions can be gripped by conscious reasoning
processes, man gains much of the knowledge which is power.
But the scope of knowledge in the fullest sense is indefinitely
greater than that of science and philosophy.

Nor is it hard to see why the sphere of reflective thought is thus
comparatively limited. For modern speculations, and even the
straitest psychology, have familiarised us with the idea of a
larger self that is beyond the reach of conscious analysis.
Obscure workings of the mind--emotions, moods, immediate
perceptions, premonitions, and the rest--have a potent part to
play in the actual living of a life. Consider in this connection
such a passage as the following, taken from Jefferies' "Story of
My Heart." It means something, though it is not scientific.

"Three things only have been discovered of that which concerns
the inner consciousness since before written history began.
Three things only in twelve thousand written, or sculptured
years, and in the dumb, dim time before them. Three ideas the
cavemen wrested from the unknown, the night which is round
us still in daylight--_the existence of the soul, immortality, the
deity_. These things . . . do not suffice me. I desire to advance
farther, and to wrest a fourth, and even still more than a fourth,
from the darkness of thought. I want more ideas of soul-life. . . .
My naked mind confronts the unknown. I see as clearly as the
noonday that this is not all; I see other and higher conditions
than existence; I see not only the existence of the soul, but, in
addition, I realise a soul-life illimitable. . . . I strive to give
utterance to a Fourth Idea. The very idea that there is another
idea is something gained. The three gained by the cavemen are
but stepping-stones, first links of an endless chain."

Of course, we are here reminded of Wordsworth's "obstinate
questionings of sense and outward things"; of his "misgivings of
a creature moving about in worlds not realised." Intuition is
feeling its way outwards beyond the sphere of the known, and
emotion is working in harmony with it, the reason still fails to
grip. Morris' description of a like sense of unrealised
possibilities applies, in varying degrees, to men of all sorts and
conditions, though the poets of whom he speaks are the most

    "Blind thoughts which occupy the brain,
        Dumb melodies which fill the ear,
    Dim perturbations, precious pain,
        A gleam of hope, a chill of fear--
    These seize the poet's soul, and mould
    The ore of fancy into gold."

Language is thus employed to proclaim its own inadequacy.
And who can fail to see that between the rich complexity of the
workings of the whole mind and the means by which we would
fain render them articulate, there yawns a gap which no effort
can bridge over? Even the poet fails--much more the scientist!
To refuse to take cognisance of the fresh spontaneity of feeling
and intuition is to rob life of its higher joys and its deeper



Many thinkers of the present day pride themselves upon the
growth of what they call the naturalistic spirit. What do they
mean by this? They mean that the older ways of interpreting
nature, animistic or supernatural, are being supplanted by
explanations founded on knowledge of physical facts and
"natural" laws. And, up to a point, there are but few natural
mystics who will not concur in their feelings of satisfaction that
ignorance and superstition are disappearing in rough proportion
as exact knowledge advances. At any rate, in this study, the
more solid conclusions of science will be freely and gladly
accepted. The very idea of a conflict between Science and
Natural Mysticism is to be mercilessly scouted.

But this concurrence must be conditional. Tait, for example,
was scornful of any form of animism. He wrote thus: "The
Pygmalions of modern days do not require to beseech Aphrodite
to animate the world for them. Like the savage with his Totem,
they have themselves already attributed life to it. 'It comes,'
as Helmholtz says, 'to the same thing as Schopenhauer's
metaphysics. The stars are to love and hate one another, feel
pleasure and displeasure, and to try to move in a way
corresponding to these feelings.' The latest phase of this
peculiar non-science tells us that all matter is alive; or at least
that it contains the 'promise and potency' (whatever these may be)
'of all terrestrial life.' All this probably originated in the very
simple manner already hinted at; viz., in the confusion of terms
constructed for application to thinking beings only, with others
applicable only to brute matter, and a blind following of this
confusion to its necessarily preposterous consequences. So
much for the attempts to introduce into science an element
altogether incompatible with the fundamental conditions of its

This is vigorous! But how does the matter now stand? Since
Tait wrote his invective, many physicists of at least equal rank
with himself, and with some undreamt-of discoveries to the
good, have subscribed to the views which he so trenchantly
condemns. As for the metaphysicians, there are but few of the
first flight who do not conceive of consciousness as the ultimate
form of existence. Again, the reference to the Pygmalion myth
implies the view that mythology was a mere empty product of
untutored fancy and imaginative subjectivism. Here also he is
out of harmony with the spirit now pervading the science of
religion and the comparative study of early modes of belief. It
will be well to devote some chapters to a survey of the problems
thus suggested, and to preface them by an enquiry, on general
lines, into man's relation to nature.

We shall best come to grips with the real issue by fastening on
Tait's "brute matter." For the words contain a whole philosophy.
On the one hand, matter, inert, lifeless: on the other hand, spirit,
living, supersensuous: between the two, and linking the two,
man, a spirit in a body. Along with this there generally goes a
dogma of special creations, though it may perhaps be held that
such a dogma is not essential to the distinction between the two
realms thus sharply sundered. It is at once obvious that, starting
from such premisses, Tait's invective is largely justified. For if
matter is inert, brute, dead--it certainly seems preposterous to
speak of its having within it the potency of life--using "life" as a
synonym for living organisms, including man. The nature-mystic
is overwhelmed with Homeric laughter.

But the whole trend of scientific investigation and speculation is
increasingly away from this crude and violent dualism. The
relation of soul to body is still a burning question, but does not
at all preclude a belief that matter is one mode of the
manifestation of spirit. Indeed, it is hard to understand how
upholders of the disappearing doctrine would ever bring
themselves to maintain, even on their own premisses, that any
creation of the Supreme Spirit could be "brute"--that is, inert
and irrational! Regarded from the new view-point, all is what
may, for present purposes, be called spiritual. And when man
appeared upon the globe, he was not something introduced from
without, different from and alien to the world of matter, but
merely the outcome of a more intense activity of the same
forces as were at work from the first and in the whole--in brief,
a higher manifestation of the life which is the ultimate Ground
of all modes of existence. There are not two different realms,
that of brute matter and living spirit; but various planes, or
grades, of life and consciousness. Leibniz had the beautiful and
profound idea that life has three modes on earth--it sleeps in
plants, it dreams in animals, and it wakes in man. Modern
thought is expanding, universalising, this idea.

Man's relation to nature, in the light of this newer doctrine, thus
becomes sufficiently clear. He is not an interloper, but an
integral part of a whole. He is the highest outcome (so far as our
world of sense is concerned) of a vast upward movement. Nay,
modern science links him on to other worlds and other aeons.
Cosmic evolution is "all of a piece," so to speak, and man takes
his own special place in an ordered whole. The process is slow,
measured by the standard of human life. Countless ages have
lapsed to bring us and our world to its present degree of
conscious life. Countless ages are yet to elapse. What shall be
the end--the goal? Who can tell? Judging by what we know, it
would seem simplest to say that the trend of the evolutionary
process is towards the increase of internal spontaneity and
consciously formed and prosecuted purpose. In his "Songs
before Sunrise," Swinburne calls this spontaneity "freedom."

    "Freedom we call it, for holier
        Name of the soul's there is none;
    Surelier it labours, if slowlier,
        Than the metres of star and of sun;
    Slowlier than life unto breath,
    Surelier than time unto death,
        It moves till its labour is done."

The nature-mystic, then, is bound to reject the "brute" matter
doctrine just as decidedly as the doctrine of the unconditioned
Absolute. Each, in its own way, robs nature of its true glory and
significance. Nature, for him, is living: and that, not indirectly
as a "living garment" (to quote Goethe's Time Spirit) of another
Reality, but as itself a living part of that Reality--a genuine,
primary manifestation of the ultimate Ground. And man is an
integral living part of living nature.

There is another aspect of this "brute" matter doctrine which
leads to the same conclusions. If matter be held to possess no
other properties than those known to the physicist, it might be
possible to account for what may be termed the utilitarian side
of human development, social and individualistic. Nature makes
demands upon man's energies and capacities before she will
yield him food and shelter, and his material requirements
generally. The enormously important and far-reaching range of
facts here brought to view have largely determined the
chequered course of industrial and social evolution. But even
so, weighty reservations must be made. There is the element of
rationality (implicit in external phenomena) which has
responded to the workings of human reason. There are the
manifestations of something deeper than physics in the
operations of so-called natural laws, and all the moral
influences those laws have brought to bear on man's higher
development. There is the significant fact that as the resources
of civilisation have increased, the pressure of the utilitarian
relation has relaxed.

According fullest credit, however, to the influence of the purely
"physical" properties of nature, has man no other relation to his
external environment than the utilitarian? The moral influence
has been just suggested; the exploitation of this rich vein has for
some time past engaged the attention of evolutionary moralists.
Our more immediate concern is with the aesthetic influences.
And in nature there is beauty as well as utility. Nor is the beauty
a by-product of utility; it exists on its own account, and asserts
itself in its own right. As Emerson puts it--"it is its own excuse
for being." As another writer puts it--"in the beauty which we
see around us in nature's face, we have felt the smile of a
spiritual Being, as we feel the smile of our friend adding light
and lustre to his countenance." Yes, nature is beautiful and man
knows it. How great the number and variety of the emotions and
intuitions that beauty can stir and foster will be seen in detail

But beauty is not the only agent in moulding and developing
man's character. Nature, as will be shown, is a manifestation of
immanent ideas which touch life at every point. Ugliness, for
example, has its place as well as beauty, and will be dealt with
in due course. So with ideas of life and death, of power and
weakness, of hope and despondency--these and a thousand
others, immanent in external phenomena, have stimulated the
powerful imaginations of the infant race, and still maintain their
magic to move the sensitive soul. The wonderful mythological
systems of the past enshrine science, philosophy, and poetry--
and they were prompted by physical phenomena. The philosophy
and poetry of the present are still largely dependent
on the same phenomena. So it will be to the end.

That the revelation of Reality is a partial one--that the highest
summits are veiled in mists--this is freely granted. But the very
fact constitutes in itself a special charm. If what we see is so
wonderful, what must that be which is behind!



The general character of the nature-mystic's main contention
will now be sufficiently obvious. He maintains that man and his
environment are not connected in any merely external fashion,
but that they are sharers in the same kind of Being, and
therefore livingly related. If this be sound, we shall expect to
find that wherever and whenever men are in close and constant
touch with nature they will experience some definite sort of
influence which will affect their characters and their thoughts.
Nor, as will already have been obvious, are we disappointed in
this expectation. Let us turn to a somewhat more detailed study
of the evidence for the reality and potency of the mystic
influence continuously exercised by physical phenomena on
man's psychic development.

As has been stated, the nature-mystic lays considerable, though
by no means exclusive, stress upon what he calls "intuition."
His view of this faculty or capacity is not quite that of the
strict psychologist. Herbert Spencer, for instance, in his
"Psychology," uses the term intuition in what he deems to be its
"common acceptation"--"as meaning any cognition reached by
an undecomposable mental act." Of course much would turn on
what is implied by cognition, and it is impossible to embark on
the wide sea of epistemology, or even on that of the intuitional
controversy, with a view to determining this point. Spencer's
own illustration of an intuited fact for knowledge--relations
which are equal to the same relation are equal to one another--
would appear to narrow its application to those so-called self-
evident or necessary truths which are unhesitatingly accepted at
first sight. The nature-mystic, however, while unreservedly
recognising this kind of intuition (whatever may be its
origin) demands a wider meaning for the term. A nearer
approach to what he wants is found in the feats of certain
calculating prodigies, who often seem to reach their astounding
results rather by insights than operations. The celebrated
mathematician, Euler, is said to have possessed, in addition to
his extraordinary memory for numbers, "a kind of _divining
power_," by which he perceived almost at a glance, the most
complicated relations of factors and the best modes of
manipulating them. As regards the calculating prodigies, a
thought suggests itself. It has been almost invariably found that
as they learnt more, their special power decreased. Has this any
bearing on the loss of imaginative power and aesthetic insight
which often accompanies the spread of civilisation?--or on the
materialisms and the "brute matter" doctrines which so often
afflict scientists?

But even this expansion of meaning does not satisfy the
nature-mystic. Perhaps the case of musical intuition comes still
nearer to what he is looking for, inasmuch as cognition, in the
sense of definite knowledge, is here reduced to a minimum. On
the other hand there is more at work than mere feeling. The soul
of the music-lover moves about in a world which is at once
realised and yet unrealised--his perceptions are vivid and yet
indefinable. And it is important to note that the basis is

And thus we say of mystical intuition that it is a passing of the
mind, without reasoned process, behind the world of phenomena
into a more central sphere of reality--an insight into a
world beyond the reach of sense--a direct beholding of
spiritual facts, guided by a logic which is implicit, though it
does not emerge into consciousness. It is intuition of this fuller
and deeper kind which in all likelihood forms the core of what
some would call the aesthetic and the moral senses.

And here an interesting question presents itself. The older
mystics, and the more orthodox of modern mystics, would have
us believe that the intuition for which they contend is purely
passive. The mind must be quieted, the will negated, until a
state of simple receptivity is attained. Is this contention valid? It
is difficult to break away from venerable traditions, but the
nature-mystic who would be abreast of the knowledge of his
day must at times be prepared to submit even intuition itself to
critical analysis. And in this instance, criticism is all the more
necessary because the doctrine of pure passivity is largely a
corollary of belief in an unconditioned Absolute. If union with
such an Absolute is to be enjoyed, the will must be pulseless,
the intellect atrophied, the whole soul inactive: otherwise the
introduction of finite thoughts and desires inhibits the divine

Now it was noted, when intuition was first mentioned, that, like
sensation (which is an elementary form of intuition) it provides
"matter" for the mind to work upon. So far, it may rightly be
deemed passive--receptive. But only half the story is thus told.
The mind reacts upon the "matter" so provided, and gives it
context and meaning. Even the sense-organ reacts to the
physical stimulus, and conditions it in its own fashion; much
more will the mind as a whole assert itself. Indeed it is only on
condition of such action and reaction that any union, or
communion, worthy of the name, can be effected. And should it
be suspected that the distinction between "matter" and "form" is
too Kantian and technical (though it is not intended to be such)
the matter can be stated in more general terms by saying that in
all forms of intuition, from the lowest to the highest, the mind
goes out to meet that which comes to it--there is always some
movement from within, be it desire, emotion, sympathy, or
other like affection. In short, the self, as long as it is a self,
can never be purely passive.

Consider from this point of view the following passage from
Jefferies. "With all the intensity of feeling which exalted me, all
the intense communion I held with the earth, the sun and sky,
the stars hidden by the light, with the ocean--in no manner can
the thrilling depth of these feelings be written--with these I
prayed, as if they were the keys of an instrument, of an organ,
with which I swelled forth the notes of my soul, redoubling my
own voice by their power. The great sun burning with light; the
strong earth, dear earth; the warm sky; the pure air; the thought
of ocean; the inexpressible beauty of all filled me with a
rapture, an ecstasy, an inflatus. With this inflatus, too, I prayed."
How strong throughout the activity of the soul--culminating in
prayer! And by "prayer," Jefferies distinctly states that he
means, not "a request for anything preferred to a deity," but
intense soul-emotion, intense aspiration, intense desire for fuller
soul-life--all the marks of the highest forms of mysticism, and
proportionately strengthened soul-activities.

And what, then, shall be said of Wordsworth?

            "I deem that there are Powers
        Which of themselves our minds impress;
    That we can feed these minds of ours
        In a wise passiveness.
    Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum
        Of things for over speaking,
    That nothing of itself will come,
        But we must still be seeking."

Is not this, it may be asked, in harmony with the older doctrine?
Not so. There is a rightful and wholesome insistence on the
necessity for a receptive attitude of mind. Jefferies, too, was
intensely receptive as well as intensely active. But Wordsworth
is contrasting concentration of the mind on definite studies and
on book-lore with the laying of it open to the influences of
nature. He calls this latter a "wise passiveness"--a "dreaming":
but is nevertheless an active passivity--a waking dream. All the
senses are to be in healthy working order; a deep consciousness
is to be gently playing over the material which nature so
spontaneously supplies. And so it comes that he can tell of

    "A Presence that disturbs me with the joy
    Of elevated thoughts."

Is not this the same experience as that of Jefferies, only passing
through a mind of calmer tone. And if at times Wordsworth also
is lifted into an ecstasy, when

        "the light of sense
    Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
    The invisible world,"

his mind is not in an Absolutist state of passivity, but, on the
contrary, is stirred to higher forms of consciousness. The
experiences may, or may not be such as subsequent reflection
can reduce to order--that is immaterial to the issue--but at any
rate they imply activity. We may safely conclude, therefore, that
intuition in all its grades necessitates a specialised soul-activity
as well as a specialised soul-passivity.

It will have been apparent in what has preceded that there are
many grades of intuition, rising from sense-perception to what
is known as ecstasy. Some may doubt the wisdom of admitting
ecstasy among the experiences of a sane, modern nature-mystic.
Certainly the word raises a prejudice in many minds. Certainly
the fanaticisms of religious Mysticism must be avoided. But
Jefferies was not frightened of the word to describe an
unwonted experience of exalted feeling; nor was Wordsworth
afraid to describe the experience itself:

        "that serene and blessed mood
    In which the affections gently lead us on--
    Until the breath of this corporeal flame,
    And even the motion of our human blood
    Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
    In body, and become a living soul;
    While with an eye made quiet by the power
    Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
    We see into the life of things."

This is in many respects the same type of experience as that
described by Plotinus--"the life of the gods, and of divine and
happy men"--but shorn of its needless degradation of the
body and the senses, which, with Wordsworth are still and
transcended, but remain as a foundation for all the rest. There is
yet another and very significant point of difference. Porphyry, a
disciple of Plotinus, tells us that his master attained to the
ecstatic condition four times only in the six years which he
spent in his company. How often Wordsworth attained to his
form of ecstasy we do not know. But there is the little word
"we" which occurs throughout his description: and this
evidently links the past on to his readers. That is to say, he does
not sever his experience from that which is open to ordinary
humanity. He called for and anticipated genuine sympathy. Nor
was he wrong in making this demand, for there are few
sensitive lovers of nature who are not able to parallel, in some
degree, what the English high-priest of Nature Mysticism has so
wonderfully described. And as for the lower and simpler grades
of feeling for nature, given that the conditions of life are
"natural," they are practically universal, though often



Although the outstanding mark of intuition is its immediacy,
that does not imply that it is independent of mental
development, of culture, or of discipline. So far all classes of
mystics would be agreed. Nevertheless a certain amount of
comment and criticism will be useful even in this regard. For
erroneous conceptions, especially in matters so largely
influenced by belief in an unconditioned Absolute, may
frequently issue in harmful practices. For proof and illustration
of the danger, need one do more than point to the terrible
excesses of asceticism still prevalent in India?

And first, of the normal development of the mystic feeling for
nature in the case of the individual mind. "The child is father of
the man," said Wordsworth. But in what sense is this true? Let
us turn to the immortal Ode, which is undoubtedly a record of
vivid personal experience.

    "Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
    Shades of the prison-house begin to close
        Upon the growing boy,
    But he beholds the light and whence it flows,
        He sees it in his joy;
    The youth who daily farther from the east
    Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
        And by the vision splendid
        Is on his way attended;
    At length the man perceives it die away
    And fade into the light of common day."

Of course the poet was in dead earnest in writing thus; but the
two last lines give us pause. How about

    "The light that never was on land or sea"?

Was not that with the poet to the end? How about the

    "Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears"?

Would those have been possible for the child or growing boy? If
there had been a loss, had there not also been a very real gain as
the years rolled over his head? Such questions are forced upon
us by an examination of the records themselves. Somewhat of
the brightness and freshness of "the vision splendid" might
evaporate; but the mystic glow, the joy, the exaltation,
remained--and deepened--

    "So was it when I was a child,
    So is it now I am a man,
    So may it be when I am old,
        Or let me die"--

only that childlike fancy yields place to matured imagination.
And if this was so with Wordsworth, whose childhood was so
exceptional, still more shall we find it to be true of the average
child. The early freshness of the senses may be blunted; the
eager curiosity may be satiated; but where the nature remains
unspoilt, the sense of wonder and of joy will extend its range
and gain in fullness of content.

If we compare Kingsley's development, he was in a way a great
"boy" to the end--but a boy with a deepening sense of mystery
mellowing his character and his utterances. And thus it was that
he could say, looking back on his intercourse with the wonders
of nature: "I have long enjoyed them, never I can honestly say
alone, because when man was not with me I had companions in
every bee and flower and pebble, and never idle, because I
could not pass a swamp or a tuft of heather without finding in it
a fairy tale of which I could but decipher here and there a line or
two, and yet found them more interesting than all the books,
save one, which were ever written upon earth."

True, there is another range of experiences to be reckoned with,
such as that of Omar Khayyam--

    "Yet ah that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
    That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!
        The Nightingale that on the branches sang,
    Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows?"

Yes, but what might Omar have been with a nobler philosophy
of life, and a more wholesome self-restraint. Blase, toper as he
was, how did he begin his Rubaiyat? Thus finely!

    "Wake! For the Sun who scatter'd into flight
    The stars before him from the Field of Night,
        Drives Night along with them from Heav'n and strikes
    The Sultan's turret with a Shaft of Light."

There was poetry in the man still--and that, too, of the kind
stirred by nature. And from nature likewise comes the pathos of
a closing verse--

    "Yon rising Moon that looks for us again--
    How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
        How oft hereafter rising look for us
    Through this same Garden--and for _one_ in vain! "

And if in spite of all that is said, Wordsworth's haunting Ode
still asserts its sway, then let there be a still more direct appeal
to its author. One of his loveliest sonnets is that which opens--

    "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free."

He tells of the holy stillness, the setting of the broad sun, the
eternal motion of the sea. He is filled with a sense of mystic
adoration. And then there is a sudden turn of thought--

    "Dear child! dear girl! that walkest with me here,
    If thou appear untouch'd by solemn thought,
    Thy nature is not therefore less divine."

What is this but to regard the intuitional faculty as still largely
latent, awaiting the maturing processes of the passing years?
There is no place for further argument.

What has just been said of the child may be said of the race,
especially if there is anything in the theory that the child
recapitulates in brief the stages through which the race has
passed in its upward progress. In the dawn of civilisation the
senses would be comparatively fresh and keen, though lacking
in delicacy of aesthetic discrimination; the imagination would
be powerful and active. Hence the products, so varied and
immense, of the animistic tendency and the mytho-poeic
faculty. To these stages succeed the periods of reflective
thought and accurate research, which, while blunting to some
degree the sharp edge of sensibility, more than atone for the loss
by the widening of horizons and the deepening of mysteries. We
must be careful, however, not to press the analogy, or parallel,
too far. Important modifications of the recapitulation theory are
being urged even on its biological side; it is wise, therefore, to
be doubly on guard when dealing with the complexities of
social development. Still, it is safe to assert that, for the race as
for the individual, the modes of cosmic emotion grow fuller and
richer in "the process of the suns." Would it be easy to parallel
in any previous period of history that passage from Jefferies?--
"With all the intensity of feeling which exalted me, all the
intense communion I held with the earth, the sun, and the sky,
the stars hidden by the light, with the ocean--in no manner can
the thrilling depth of these feelings be written--with these I
prayed, as if they were the keys of an instrument."

Starting from an acknowledgment that the intuitional faculty is
capable of development, it is an easy, and indeed inevitable,
step to the conclusion that training and discipline can aid that
development. As noted above, mystics have gone, and still go,
to lengths which make the world wonder, in their efforts to
enjoy the higher forms of mystic communion with the Real. The
note of stern renunciation has persisted like a bourdon down the
ages in the lives of those who have devoted themselves to the
quest of the Absolute. In the East, and more especially in India,
the grand aim of life has come to be the release from the
appetites and the senses. The Buddhist struggles to suppress all
natural desires, and undergoes all manner of self-inflicted
tortures, that he may rise above the world of illusion, and attain
to absorption in the Universal Spirit. He sacrifices the body that
the soul may see. Similar views, though varying much in detail,
have flourished at the heart of all the great religions, and have
formed almost the sole substance of some of the smaller. Nor
has Christianity escaped. An exaggerated and uncompromising
asceticism has won for many Christian saints their honours on
earth and their assurance of special privileges in heaven.

Contrast with this sterner and narrower type, the mystic who
loves the natural world because he believes it to be, like
himself, a genuine manifestation of the ultimately Real, and to
be akin to his own inmost life. He, too, acknowledges the need
for the discipline of the body--he, too, has his _askesis_--but he
cherishes the old Greek ideal which does not call for a sacrifice
of sense as such, but for a wise abstinence from those sensual
pleasures, or over-indulgences in pleasure, which endanger the
balance of the powers of the body and the mind. The nature-
mystic, more particularly, maintains that there is no form of
human knowledge which may not be of service to him in
attaining to deeper insight and fuller experience in his
intercourse with nature. He is therefore a student, in the best
sense of the word--not a slave to mere erudition, but an alert and
eager absorber of things new and old according to his abilities
and opportunities. He tries to survey life as a whole, and to
bring his complete self, body and soul, to the realisation of its
possibilities. And he looks to nature for some of his purest joys
and most fruitful experiences. He knows that the outward shows
of heaven and earth are manifestations of a Reality which
communes with him as soul with soul.



Mysticism and symbolism are generally regarded as
inseparable: some may go so far as to make them practically
synonymous. Hence the large space devoted to symbols in most
treatises on Mysticism. Recejac, for instance, in his treatise on
the "Bases of the Mystic Belief," devotes about two-thirds of
the whole to this subject. Whence such preponderating
emphasis? There are, of course, many conspiring causes, but the
conception of the Absolute is still the strongest. Given an
Unconditioned which is beyond the reach of sense and reason,
the phenomenal is necessarily degraded to the rank of the
merely symbolical. Nature, being at an infinite distance from
the Real, can only "stand for" the Real; and any knowledge
which it can mediate is so indirect as to be hardly worthy of the

To this degradation of the phenomenal the true nature-mystic is
bound to demur, if he is to be faithful to his fundamental
principle. He desires direct communion with the Real, and looks
to external nature as a means to attain his end. To palm off upon
him something which "stands for" the Real is to balk him of his
aim; for the moment the symbol appears, the Real disappears:
its place is taken by a substitute which at the best is Maya--an
illusion; or, to use technical phraseology of the metaphysical
sort, is "mere appearance."

But further, the symbolic conception of nature would seem to
contradict the requirement of immediacy--a requirement more
vital to the Absolutist than to the genuine nature-mystic, and yet
apparently lost from the view of those who are the strongest
advocates of symbolism. For intuition implies direct insight,
independent of reasoning process and conceptual construction.
Whereas, a symbol, in any ordinary acceptation of the word, is
indisputably a product of conscious mental processes: its very
reference beyond itself demands conscious analysis and
synthesis, and a conscious recognition of complicated systems
of relations. The doctrine of symbols is thus in reality
subversive of Mysticism of any kind, and more especially of
Nature Mysticism.

Let it not be supposed that to argue thus is to repudiate
symbolism as such. Whoever understands the nature and
conditions of human knowledge sees that symbolic systems, of
endless variety, are necessary instruments in almost every
department of theory, research, and practice. We cannot move
without them. Some symbols are thoroughly abstract and
artificial, but frequently of the utmost value, in spite of their
being pure creations of the mind. Other symbols are founded on
analogies and affinities deep down in the nature of things, and
so come nearer to the matter of genuine intuition. Between the
two extremes there are an infinite number of graded systems,
some of which enter into the very texture of daily life. But so
long as, and in so far as, there is a "standing for" instead of a
"being," the mystic, qua mystic, is defrauded of his direct
communion with the Ground of things.

But the mystic who champions symbolism may object that the
definition of that term must not be taken so narrowly, and that
there is the wider sense in which it is taken by writers on
aesthetics. Some such definition as this may be attempted: A
symbol is something which does not merely "stand for"
something else, but one which, while it has a meaning of its
own, points onward to another thing beyond itself, and suggests
an ideal content which of itself it cannot fully embody. But are
we really cleared of our difficulty by substituting "suggests" for
"stands for"? Again it must be insisted that the mystic aims at
direct communion, not with that which is "suggested," but that
which "is." An object may be low or high in the scale of
existence, may be rich or poor in content--but it is what it is,
and, as such, and in and for itself, may be the source of an
intuition. The man lying on the bank of the mill-stream and
meditating on the water-wheel wanted the secret of the wheel
itself, not what the wheel "suggested." Jefferies, yearning for
fuller soul-life, and sensitive to nature's aspects, felt that the
life was there--that the universe _is_ the life--that the life is
intuited in and through the universe, though not grasped as
yet by the conscious reasoning processes.

As an interesting example, the symbol of the cross may be
briefly considered. Why should a form so simple and so familiar
have acquired an astonishingly wide range and be generally
regarded as symbolic of life? Much has to be learnt before the
problem is solved. One thing seems fairly certain--the choice
has not been wholly arbitrary; there has been at work an
intuitional, subconscious factor. Is it possible that the negativing
of a line in one direction by a line in another direction raises
subliminally a sense of strain, then of effort, then of purposeful
will, and so, lastly, of life? Probably a piece of pure
imagination! And yet there must be some real power in the
symmetrical form itself to account for its symbolic career.
Conscious reason, obscurely prompted by this power, evolved
the symbolic use; and the strange interminglings of intuition,
rational action, and force of circumstance, during the long
course of civilised history, have accomplished the rest.

The train of reflection thus started will add special point to a
passage from an early letter of Kingsley's, quoted by Inge in a
slightly curtailed form, but here given in full. "The great
Mysticism is the belief that is becoming every day stronger with
me, that all symmetrical natural objects, aye, and perhaps all
forms, colours, and scents which show organisation or
arrangement, are types of some truth or existence, of a grade
between the symbolical type and the mystic type. When I walk
the fields I am oppressed every now and then with an innate
feeling, that everything I see has a meaning, if I could but
understand it. And this feeling of being surrounded with truths
which I cannot grasp, amounts to indescribable awe sometimes!
Everything seems to be full of God's reflex, if we could but see

The passage is of profound significance when taken as a whole,
and will serve as a remarkable description of the genuine mystic
experience which can be prompted by nature, without going to
the length of "vision," still less of ecstasy. But the stress now
lies on the words--"a grade between the symbolical type and the
mystic type." Kingsley evidently realised the insufficiency of
symbolism to meet his demands, while he shrank from the
vagueness of what was called Mysticism. Objects for him had a
meaning in their own right, and he was casting about for a
fitting term to express this fact. He also distinctly states that to
him, "Everything seems to be full of God's reflex." Once grant
that Nature Mysticism, as denned and illustrated in the
preceding chapters, is a genuine form of Mysticism, and his
difficulty would be solved. The natural objects which stirred his
emotions would be acknowledged as part and parcel of the
ultimate Ground itself, and therefore competent to act, not as
substitutes for something else not really present, but in their
own right, and of their own sovereign prerogative. Nature, in
short, is not a mere stimulus for a roving fancy or teeming
imagination: it is a power to be experienced, a secret to be
wrested, a life to be shared.

The famous "Canticle of the Sun" of St. Francis d'Assisi gives
naive and spontaneous expression to the same truth. Natural
objects, for this purest of mystics, were no bare symbols, nor
did they gain their significance by suggesting beyond
themselves. He addressed them as beings who shared with him
the joy of existence. "My Brother the Sun"--"my Sister the
Moon"--"our Mother the Earth"--"my Brother the Wind"--"our
Sister Water"--"Brother Fire." The same form of address is
maintained for things living and things lifeless. And it is
obvious that the endearing terms of relationship are more than
metaphors or figures of speech. His heart evidently goes with
them: he genuinely claims kinship. Differences dissolve in a
sense of common being. It would be an anachronism to read
into these affectionate names the more fully developed
mysticism of Blake, or Shelley, or Emerson. But the absence of
any tinge of symbolic lore is noteworthy.

Kingsley, as was just seen, was feeling about for something
more satisfactory than mystic symbolism; so also was Emerson.
"Mysticism" (he writes) "consists in the mistake of an
accidental and individual symbol for an universal one. . . . The
mystic must be steadily told, 'All that you say is just as true
without the tedious use of that symbol as with it.'" Emerson's
uneasiness is manifest. He is rebelling, but is not quite sure of
his ground. At one time he inclines to think the mystic in fault
because he "nails a symbol to one sense, which was a true sense
for a moment, but soon becomes old and false." At another time
he is inclined to condemn the symbol altogether as being of too
"accidental" a character. But it is surely simpler to throw
symbolism overboard so far as genuine mystic experience is
concerned. What the mystic is in search of is "meaning" in its
own right--"meaning" existing in and for itself. Anything less is
a fraud. Emerson nearly reached this conclusion, as witness the
following passage: "A happy symbol is a sort of evidence that
your thought is just. . . . If you agree with me, or if Locke or
Montesquieu agree, I may yet be wrong; but if the elm tree
thinks the same thing, if running water, if burning coal, if
crystals, if alkalies, in their several fashions, say what I say, it
must be true." Here Emerson is all but clean out of the tangle.
He speaks of a "happy symbol." But inasmuch as this "happy
symbol" is to express what the elm tree, the running water, and
the rest, _actually say_ in their several fashions, it is safer to
drop the idea of symbolism altogether; for what they _say_, is
not what they "stand for," but what they actually _are_.

If the contention is renewed that the elm tree, running water,
and the rest, _suggest_ truths and thoughts beyond themselves,
of course the point may be readily granted. But this is only to
affirm that every object is linked on to every other object by a
multiplicity of relations--that each part is woven into the texture
of a larger whole in a universe of interpenetrations. The
consistent working out of the organic interdependence of the
modes and forms of existence is found in such a system as that
of Hegel, where each part pre-supposes correlatives, and where
each stage or "moment" includes all the past, and presses on to
that which dialectically succeeds. It is not necessary to be a
Hegelian to appreciate the grand idea of his doctrine--that all
modes and manifestations of the Real are logically and
organically connected. But to say that one stage of the evolution
of the Idea is dependent on another, or essentially involves
another, is not to make the lower of the stages symbolic of the
higher. Indeed to introduce the concept of symbolism at all into
such a context is to court inextricable confusion. Let symbolism
be one thing, and let organic (or dialectic) connection be
another--then we know where we are when we claim for natural
objects that they have a being and a meaning in their own right,
and that they are akin to the soul of man. Emerson had a firm
grasp of the nature-mystic's inevitable contention.

    "The rounded world is fair to see,
    Nine-times folded in mystery:
    Though baffled seers cannot impart
    The secret of its labouring heart.
    Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast,
    And all is clear from east to west.
    Spirit that lurks each form within
    Beckons to spirit of its kin;
    Self-kindled every atom glows,--
    And hints the future which it owes."



There are many thinkers who are ready to acknowledge that the
contemplation of nature leads to various kinds of emotional and
aesthetic experience, but who at the same time deny that the
results of such contemplation have any other than a subjective
character; they argue that the validity of the results evaporates,
so to speak, with the mood which brought them into being.
Myths, for example, from this point of view are "simply the
objectification of subjective impulses"; and modern sympathy
with nature is aesthetic feeling which "breaks free of the fetters
laid upon it by mythological thought, constantly to create at its
own sovereign pleasure myths which pass with the passing of
the end that they have served and give place to other fancies."
This "subjective" doctrine will meet us often, and will call for
various answers. Let it now be considered in its most general
and formidable shape, that to which Wundt has given weighty
support in his treatise on the "Facts of the Moral Life." The
sentences quoted just above are from those sections of this work
which deal with man's aesthetic relation to nature; and it is with
their teaching on the subject that this chapter will be chiefly

Here is a statement which raises a clear issue. The influence of
nature, says Wundt, is not immutable. "The same mountains and
rivers and forests lie before the modern European that lay
before his ancestors thousands of years ago; but the effect
which they produce is very different. In this change there is
reflected a change in man's _aesthetic_ view of the world, itself
connected with a change in his moral apprehension of life."
Now every word of this passage may be welcomed by the
nature-mystic without his thereby yielding his contention that
mountains and rivers and forests have a definite and immanent
objective significance of their own. The phenomena of sunrise
and sunset, which lay before our European ancestors thousands
of years ago, are the same as those which present themselves to
the modern astronomer, and yet how differently interpreted!
Does the difference imply that the early observer had no
objective facts before him, and that modern astronomy has
advanced to a freedom which enables it to frame hypotheses at
its sovereign will? Such a conclusion is just possible as we
meditate on the mutability of many scientific concepts! Still, the
conclusion would be regarded as somewhat violent. But if it is
allowed that in the latter case, the basis of objective fact gives
continuity to the development of astronomic lore, why should
the same privilege not be accorded to the objective element
in the continuity of mystical lore? As knowledge grows,
interpretations become more adequate to the objective facts, but
it does not negate them. And Wundt himself allows that "it is
from the mythological form of the feeling (for nature), which
reaches back to the first beginnings of human civilisation, that
the aesthetic feeling for nature with which we are ourselves
familiar has been slowly and gradually evolved." How could
such continuity be secured without some basis in the world of

And the basis in fact is surely easy of discovery. Man is not a
solitary being, suspended between earth and heaven. On the
contrary, he is related to all below him and all that is above him
by ties which enter into the very fibre of his being. He is
himself a child of nature, nurtured on the bosom of Mother
Earth and raising his eyes to the height of the Empyrean.
Evolution, whatever it may be, is a cosmic process--and man is
a link in a chain, or rather, a living member of a living universe.
For an evolutionist to argue man's relation to his physical
environment to be external in its physical aspects would be
deemed arrant folly. Is it less foolish for an evolutionist to
isolate man's emotions, feelings, and thoughts?

"In proportion" (says Wundt) "as nature lost her immediate and
living reality" (by the passing of mythology) "did the human
mind possess itself of her, to find its own subjective states
reflected in her features." Much obviously turns on the
implications of the word "reflected." We are led to hope much
when he speaks of "the kinship of the emotions set up by certain
phenomena of nature with moods arising from within"--but he
empties his statement of mystic meaning by adding, "at the
mind's own instance." "Nature" (says Auerbach in plainer
terms)" has no moods, they belong to man alone." Tennyson
gives expression to this view (not on his own behalf!):

            "all the phantom, Nature, stands,
        With all the music in her tone
    A hollow echo of my own--
        A hollow form with empty hands."

But surely all this negation of moods in nature, this
determination to empty natural phenomena of all definite
human significance, is invalidated by one very simple
consideration. There must be _some_ correspondence between
cause and effect. When certain moods are stimulated by certain
physical phenomena, there must be _some_ sort of real
causation. It is not _any_ scene that can harmonise with or
foster _any_ mood. The range of variety in the effects produced
by mountains, rivers, sunsets, and the rest, is admittedly great,
but it is not chaotic. The nature-mystic admits variety, nay,
rejoices in it, but he postulates an equivalent variety of
influences immanent in the phenomena. Of course Auerbach is
right if by mood in nature he means an experience similar to
that of the human observer: but he is wrong if he implies that
the mood is wholly a subjective creation, and that the object, or
group of objects, which stimulates the mood has no quality or
power which corresponds to, or is essentially connected with,
the mood.

Turner's famous "Fighting Temeraire" combines into an
exquisite whole a group of human moods and natural phenomena.
Was his choice of phenomena determined by purely subjective
considerations? A veteran warship is being towed by a
little steamer to her last berth. The human interest is
intense. The problem is to give it a fitting and noble setting.
Study the nature-setting which the artist has chosen for his
theme--the wealth of glowing, but gently subdued colour--the
sun setting, like the old ship, in mellow glory--the crescent
moon that speaks of the birth of a new economic era--the cool
mists stealing up, precursors of the night when work is done--
how marvellously all these tone with the general sentiment.
Shall it be maintained that they are arbitrary conventions, mere
fanciful products of the association of ideas? Armed with triple
brass must be the breast of the critic who could uphold such a
view. For the common heart of humanity repudiates it, and
intuitively feels that in such a picture there is more than a
display of artistic skill embodying subtle symbols--it feels that
there is a blending of elements which share a common spiritual

The same conclusion is reached when the matter is brought to
the test of science and philosophy. Science, in its own domain,
is every whit as anthropomorphic as Nature Mysticism--and
inevitably so if it is to exist at all; for it rests upon the
assumption that the behaviour of external objects is in harmony
with the workings of human reason. In other words, it postulates
a vital relationship between man's inner nature and the inner
nature of his material environment. Human reason goes out into
nature expecting to find there something akin to itself, and is
not disappointed of its hope. Man's conceptions of this kinship
were at first, like all his other conceptions, crude and confused;
but as his experience widened and ripened, his outlook became
more adequate to the infinite complexity and variety of the
phenomena with which he has to deal. And throughout, both in
the lower and in the higher stages of intellectual development,
the same truth unchangingly asserts itself, that man is a
microcosm. His reason proves it by finding itself in the
macrocosm. And what holds good of the imperfect and recently
developed rational faculties holds good even more substantially
of the fundamental instincts and emotions, and of intuitions and
spiritual promptings.

The scientist of a materialistic bent may here object that as the
sphere of human knowledge extends it becomes increasingly
evident that all the operations in the universe are under the sway
of inexorable laws. The issues thus raised are obviously too
large to be discussed at any length in the present context. But
two observations of a general character will serve to indicate
that there are weighty counter-considerations. The first is that
the human heart rebels against the conception of a mechanically
determined universe while conceiving itself a product of, or
integral part of, that universe. That is to say, we reject the
strange theory of a mechanical universe rebelling against itself!
Some of the inexorable laws must, to say the least, be of a very
different character from that which the scientist postulates! The
second consideration is almost a corollary of the first, but also
occupies new ground. These "laws" which are so indefatigably
hurled at us--what are they? Who can say? Even in their
simplest manifestations they pass out of our ken. The most
fundamental of them all, from the scientific point of view--the
law of the conservation of energy--is now being openly
questioned. Much more is there uncertainty as to the laws of
life, and the obscure trends and impulses grouped under the
head of evolution. So strongly does the stream of criticism bear
upon the foundations of the house of the physical scientist, that
the old temptation to hasty, and sometimes arrogant, dogmatism
is rapidly disappearing. The knowledge of "laws" still leaves,
and ever will leave, ample breathing room for the poet, the
artist, the nature-mystic, and the soul that loves.

There is, however, another aspect of the charge of
anthropomorphism--one which is more difficult to deal with
because it affects at times the nature-mystic himself. In
attempting to deal with it, it will be well to let representative
thinkers put their own case. Jefferies, for example, writes thus:
"There is nothing human in nature. The earth, though loved so
dearly, would let me perish on the ground, and neither bring
forth food nor water. Burning in the sky, the great sun, of whose
company I have been so fond, would merely burn on and make
no motion to assist me. . . . As for the sea, it offers us salt water
which we cannot drink. The trees care nothing for us; the hill I
visited so often in days gone by has not missed me. . . . There is
nothing human in the whole round of nature. All nature, all the
universe that we can see, is absolutely indifferent to us, and
except to us human life is of no more value than grass."

Now what does the charge, as thus stated, really amount to?
There is no implication that nature is hostile, as some (perhaps
including Huxley) would have us think. There is simply a
feeling that nature is remote from human modes of experience,
indifferent to human interests. And it would be puerile to
dispute the rightness of this impression so long as the standpoint
of the individual human being is adopted. The individual man is
a centre of self-consciousness in a peculiar sense. He has
numberless and interminable particular wants, hopes, fears,
pleasures, pains. Whereas, the infra-human objects in nature
have not attained to his particular mode of consciousness: theirs
differs from his in degree, perchance in kind. A tree, a cloud, a
mountain, a wave--these cannot enter into what we call
"personal" relations with each other or with human beings. But
this is not to say that they may not possess a consciousness,
which though different from man's consciousness, is yet akin to
it and linked to it. Nay, the nature-mystic's experiences, as well
as the metaphysician's speculations, declare that the linking
up must be regarded as a fact. And when we examine more
carefully what Jefferies says, we find that he in no way disputes
this fact. How could it be, with his vivid sense of communion
with forms of being still more remote from the human than the
sea-monsters he names? What oppressed him was a feeling of
strangeness. In other words, nature was "remote" for him
because he felt he did not understand it well enough.

Further discussion of the important issues thus raised will be
postponed until certain forms of modern animism come under
review. One or two preliminary observations, however, will be in
place at this earlier stage. It is wise, for example, not to forget
the limitations of our knowledge. A platitude! Yes--but one
which even the greatest thinkers are apt to lose sight of, with
consequent tendency to hasty generalisation and undue neglect
of deep-seated instincts and intuitions. The discovery of some
new cosmic law may change the whole face of nature, and set in
a new light its apparent remoteness or indifference. Again, as
has just been shown, natural phenomena are in definite
relationship to human reason. They are comprehensible--
therefore not alien. By their aid we can organise our conduct,
and even our ideals--therefore they are factors in our
self-realisation. Thus, underlying their seeming indifference,
it is possible even now to trace their beneficent influences
in the evolutionary process. And since they embody reason, beauty,
and goodness, we can afford to await in patience the solution of
many problems which trouble us, and surrender ourselves
trustfully to the calm, resistless forces which are weaving the
web of cosmic destinies.

A fine example of the trustful attitude is found in an article of
Lord Dunraven's describing his life in the woods of New
Brunswick: "The earth sleeps. A silence that can be felt has
fallen over the woods. The stars begin to fade. A softer and
stronger light wells up and flows over the scene as the broad
moon slowly floats above the tree tops. . . . The tree trunks
stand out distinct in the lessening gloom; the dark pine boughs
overhead seem to stoop caressingly towards you. Amid a
stillness that is terrifying, man is not afraid. Surrounded by a
majesty that is appalling, he shrinks not nor is he dismayed. In a
scene of utter loneliness he feels himself not to be alone. A
sense of companionship, a sensation of satisfaction, creep over
him. He feels at one with Nature, at rest in her strong protecting

There is no need, then, to be afraid of a charge ofanthropomorphism,
if only our conceptions of nature do not lag behind our
clear knowledge of its forms and forces. Man, being what
he is, is, of course, compelled to think as man and to speak
as man; he cannot jump off his own shadow. But since he is
himself part and parcel of the cosmos, his thinking and speaking
are _within_, not external to, the material cosmos. So
completely is he within, that his knowledge of himself comes to
him only by seeing himself reflected in the greater whole. And
thus, provided we are true to the highest principles we have
attained, we shall be safer when we look out on nature with the
analogy of human agency in our mind, than when we regard its
course as alien and indifferent. In other words, Nature is not
merely an AEolian harp which re-echoes tones given out by the
human soul--though that would be much!--but an indispensable
agent in producing them. The action is reciprocal, just because
man and his external world interpenetrate at every point, and are
united organically in a common life.



So much by way of direct answer to the formidable attack upon
the nature-mystic's position. In turning to more constructive
work, which will furnish many indirect answers, it will be
necessary to take another brief but exhilarating plunge into

We found that external objects somehow, through sensations,
obtain admission into the mind, and become part of its
possessions in the form of experience. Intuition of various
grades is at the base of all mental development. Reflective
thought goes to work on the material thus provided, and weaves
certain portions of it into the structure of systematised
knowledge. Much of it, however, never emerges into clear
consciousness--it is felt rather than known--sometimes not even
felt, though it influences the mind, affects its mood or tone, and
largely moulds its character and the products of its more
conscious processes. Intuition thus contains implicitly what
reflection and reason strive to render explicit.

It will be remembered that, in the first chapter, the metaphysical
theory broadly adopted was that which may be called Ideal-Realism.
The distinctive teaching is that while Materialism stops
short at external objects which can resist, and while Subjective
Idealism stops short at the perceiving mind, Ideal-Realism
affirms the reality of objects and perceiving mind alike,
but regards them as mutually dependent, and as fused in the
activity of consciousness. Can the conclusions just summed up
and the metaphysical theory adopted be brought into helpful

Yes, if the human mind and the external world are made of the
same stuff--if the mind is invisible nature, and nature visible
mind. For Materialism cannot bridge the gap between matter
and consciousness; Subjective Idealism can never move out into
a real world. But if nature and mind are genuinely akin, as the
nature-mystic holds, there is no gap to bridge, no mind
condemned to hopeless isolation. Nature is then seen to be a
manifestation of the same mental factors which we discover
when we analyse our inner experience--namely, consciousness,
feeling, will, and reason. The nature-mystic's communion with
the external world takes its place as a valid mode of realising
the essential sameness of all forms of existences and of all
cosmic activities. Science is another such valid mode, art
another, philosophy another, religion yet another--none of them
ultimately antagonistic, but mutually supplementary. Some
mystics will say that the union of man with nature is actually at
any moment complete, but has to be brought into the light of
conscious experience. Other mystics, who hold dualistic,
pluralistic, or pragmatic views, will maintain that the union may
assume ever new forms and develop ever new potentialities. But
such differences are subsidiary, and cannot obscure the
fundamental doctrine on which all consistent nature-mystics
must be agreed, that man and nature are essentially
manifestations of the same Reality.

It is deeply significant to note that, at the very dawn of
reflective thought, a conviction of the essential sameness of all
existence seized upon the minds of the fathers of Western
philosophy, and dominated their speculations. The teaching of
these bold pioneers was inevitably coloured and limited by their
social environment; but it was also so shot through with flashes
of intuition and acute reasonings, that it anticipated many of the
latest developments of modern research. A study of its main
features will occupy us at a later stage, when _we_ come to deal
with certain of nature's most striking phenomena. The simple
fact is here emphasised that the earliest effort of human
reflective thought was to discover the _Welt-stoff_--the
substance which underlies all modes and forms of existence,
and that man was regarded as an integral and organic part of the

Greek philosophy, which started with these crude, but brilliant
speculations, had developed a wonderful variety and subtlety,
when Plato, animated by the same desire to discover the Ground
of things, introduced his doctrine of Ideas. He held that bodies
are not, in themselves, the true reality; they are manifestations
of something else. Reality, for him, is a system of real thoughts
which he calls Ideas, and the world of objects gets its reality by
participating in them or by copying them. The senses, under
such conditions, cleave to the copies, whereas the mind, in
thinking by general ideas, apprehends the true reality. These
ideas must not be regarded as mere products of the mind, but as
real existences, which, when manifested under conditions of
time and space, multiply themselves in innumerable objects. In
fact, so real are they that without them there would be no
objects at all.

Schopenhauer adopted this doctrine of Ideas, and brought it into
connection with his characteristic theory of Will as the ultimate
Ground. The Ideas, for him, represent definite forms of
existence, manifested in individual things and beings. There are
thus, he said, Ideas of the simple elementary forces of nature,
such as gravity and impenetrability; there are Ideas of the
different forms of individual things; and there are Ideas of the
different species of organic beings, including man. He followed
Plato in refusing any true reality to individual objects and
separated the Idea from its sensuous form. "By Idea, then" (he
writes), "I understand every definite and fixed grade of the
objectification of will, so far as it is a thing-in-itself, and
therefore has no multiplicity. These grades are related to
individual things as their eternal forms or prototypes." Hence,
the world known to the senses could be nothing other than mere
phenomenal appearance.

Now it is manifestly an enormous stride in the direction of
Nature Mysticism to recognise in material objects a factor, or
element, which is akin to the highest activities of the human
mind. But, as already stated, in expounding the view known as
Ideal-Realism, the nature-mystic cannot be content to stop here.
Nor indeed was Schopenhauer consistent in stopping here. If he
had been faithful to his conception of Will as the Ground of all
existence, he could not well have denied some degree of reality
to objects in their own right. This particular tree, this particular
table, this particular cloud--what are they, each in its individual
capacity, but objectifications of will?--therefore real! Each
individual object is _unique_, and fills a place of its own in the
totality of objects--each is related to all the rest in particular and
defined manners and degrees--each exhibits a special kind of
behaviour in a special environment. Why, then, deny to each
individual thing its own grade and degree of reality?

Thus there is in each object an immanent idea; but this is fused
with the sensuous form, and presents itself to conscious human
thought as an objective manifestation of the Real. There is an
organic interpenetration of the sensuous and the spiritual; and it
is by virtue of this interpenetration that the human reason can go
out into the external world and find itself there. As Emerson
well puts it--"Nature is the incarnation of thought, and turns to a
thought again, as ice becomes water and gas. The world is mind
precipitated, and the volatile essence is for ever escaping again
into the state of free thought. Hence the virtue and pungency of
the influence on the mind, of natural objects, whether inorganic
or organised."

The nature-mystic is not without authoritative support, even on
the Idealist side, in his demand that individual objects shall be
allowed some grade and measure of reality. Spinoza, for
instance, allows that each individual thing is a genuine part of
the total Idea. Hegel also grants to individual things a certain
"self-reference," which constitutes them real existences. The
nature-mystic, therefore, may be of good cheer in asserting that
even the most transient phenomenon not only "participates" in
an immanent Idea, but embodies it, gives it a concrete form and
place. He thus substantiates his claim that communion with
nature is communion with the Ground of things.



After this metaphysical bath we return invigorated to the world
of concrete experience dear alike to the common-sense thinker
and the modern investigator. Do the facts of life, as ordinarily
presented, or as systematised in reflection, at all point in the
direction of the doctrine of immanent ideas? It will be seen that
this question admits of an affirmative answer. But the term
"idea" must be taken as embracing psychic existence in its
entirety--that is to say, feeling and will, as well as reason. The
dry bones of reason must be clothed with flesh and blood. The
appeal is to actual experience. Let Walt Whitman give us his.
"Doubtless there comes a time when one feels through his
whole being, and pronouncedly the emotional part, that identity
between himself subjectively and Nature objectively which
Schelling and Fichte are so fond of pressing. How it is I know
not, but I often realise a presence here--in clear moods I am
certain of it, and neither chemistry nor reasoning, nor aesthetics
will give the least explanation."

Walt Whitman mentions Fechner. Here is James's masterly
summary of Fechner's general view in this regard. "The original
sin, according to Fechner, of both our popular and our scientific
thinking, is our inveterate habit of regarding the spiritual not as
the rule but as an exception in the midst of nature. Instead of
believing our life to be fed at the breasts of the greater life, our
individuality to be sustained by the greater individuality, which
must necessarily have more consciousness and more independence
than all that it brings forth, we habitually treat whatever
lies outside of our life as so much slag and ashes of
life only; or if we believe in a Divine Spirit, we fancy him on
the one side as bodiless and nature as soulless on the other.
What comfort or peace, Fechner asks, can come from such a
doctrine? The flowers wither at its breath, the stars turn into
stone; our own body grows unworthy of our spirit and sinks into
a tenement for carnal senses only. The book of nature turns into
a volume on mechanics, in which whatever has life is treated as
a sort of anomaly; a great chasm of separation yawns between
us and all that is higher than ourselves, and God becomes a nest
of thin abstractions."

It is sufficiently well known that primitive man did not indulge
in these "thin" views of nature. He interpreted the events and
changes around him on the analogy of human activities; he
looked upon them as manifestations of living wills. And indeed
how could he do otherwise? For as yet he knew of no mode of
activity other than his own. At first those objects and
happenings were singled out which were of most practical
interest, or which most distinctly forced themselves upon the
attention. The beast of prey which threatened his life, the noisy
brook, the roaring waves, the whisperings and cracklings in the
woods--all argued the presence of life and will. So too with
mountains, avalanches, sun, moon, stars, clouds, caves, fire,
light, dark, life, death. So more especially with the storm which
sweeps across the land, the thunder which shakes the solid
earth, and the lightning which flashes from the one side of
heaven to the other. Such were the phenomena on which his
intellect worked, and in which he discovered all manner of
useful or harmful causal relations. Such were the phenomena
which produced in him emotions of awe and terror, joy and
delight. To all of them he ascribed mental life like unto his own.
Indeed it was only by such a view that he could at all
understand them, or bring himself into living connection with

From these primitive times onward, each century in the history
of civilisation has brought a wider outlook. But the original
tendency to animism has persisted and still persists. It has
behind it an undying impulse. It manifests its vitality, not only
among the uninstructed masses, but in the most select ranks of
scientists and philosophers. And thus it is not too much to say
that the idea of a universal life in nature is as firmly rooted
today as it was in the dawn of man's intellectual development.
The form in which the idea has been presented has changed
with the ages. Mythology succeeded animism, and has in turn
yielded to many curious and vanished theories, polytheistic,
gnostic, pantheistic, and the rest. Now, the belief in distinct
beings behind natural phenomena has virtually disappeared. Not
so the belief in some form of universal life or consciousness--of
which belief representative types will be given directly.

Of the persistence of the mental attitude in the modern child,
Ruskin gives a charming example, in his "Ethics of the Dust."
"One morning after Alice had gone, Dotty was very sad and
restless when she got up; and went about, looking into all the
corners, as if she would find Alice in them, and at last she came
to me, and said, 'Is Alie gone over the great sea?' And I said,
'Yes, she is gone over the great deep sea, but she will come
back again some day.' Then Dotty looked round the room; and I
had just poured some water out into the basin; and Dotty ran to
it, and got up on a chair, and dashed her hand through the water,
again and again; and cried, 'Oh, deep, deep sea! Send little Alice
back to me.'" On this, Ruskin remarks--"The whole heart of
Greek mythology is in that; the idea of a personal being in the
elemental power; of its being moved by prayer; and of its
presence everywhere, making the broken diffusion of the
element sacred." It would seem that Dotty did not definitely
personify the element, but was rather in the animistic stage. The
identifying of the natural element or object with a definite
personality is a further step taken, as Ruskin says, by the Greeks
preeminently. But the beauty and the suggestive quality of the
incident remain, whichever view be taken.

A still more deeply suggestive example is found in Wordsworth's
description of a boyish night adventure of his on Esthwaite
Lake. For it shows the inner workings of a mind impressed
by specially striking natural objects, and by the obscurely
realised powers which they dimly manifest.

    "I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
    And as I rose upon the stroke my boat
    Wont heaving through the waters like a swan;--
    When, from behind that craggy steep till then
    The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
    As if with voluntary power instinct
    Upreared its head. I struck and struck again;
    And, growing still in stature, the grim shape
    Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
    For so it seemed, with purpose of its own,
    And measured motion like a living thing,
    Strode after me. With trembling oar I turned,
    And through the silent waters made my way
    Back to the covert of the willow-tree;
    There in her mooring-place I left my bark,
    And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
    And serious mood. But after I had seen
    That spectacle, for many days my brain
    Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
    Of unknown modes of being."

There we have revealed to us the soul of animism whether
ancient or modern!

The older animism was crude and uncritical. In proportion as
men learnt to reflect upon their experience, it was bound to be
modified, and to submit to reactionary influences. Such was the
case at the very beginning of philosophical and scientific
enquiry--and such was the case also at the opening of the
"modern" era. Speaking generally, it may be said that as
knowledge of natural law extended, the idea of mental activities
in external nature was ousted. Mechanical views of the universe
gradually prevailed, and reached a passing climax in Descartes'
contention that even animals are automata!

"A passing climax"--for worse was to come. Man himself was
to be brought under the remorseless sway of physics interpreted
by mathematics. The _Homme Machine_ idea found stalwart
supporters, and gained many adherents. All forms of animism
seemed to be overwhelmed once for all. The nature-mystic
appeared to be an idle dreamer or a deluded simpleton. Nor is
the course of such exaggerations yet ended. In the pages of the
"Nineteenth Century," Huxley could seriously propound as a
thesis for discussion the question--"Are animals automata?"
And books with such titles as "The Human Machine" have still
considerable circulation.

But just as criticism undermined the immaturities and
exaggerations of the older animism, so is it undermining the
more dangerous arrogance of an exaggerated and soulless
materialism. Speculation is now trending back to a critical
animism, and, enriched by all that physical science has had to
give, is opening out new world-views of transcendent interest.
The nature-mystic is coming into his own again. It must be his
care to keep abreast of thought and discovery, and so avoid that
tendency to exaggeration, and even fanaticism, which has, in
the past, so greatly damaged the cause of Mysticism at large.

The animistic theory is now being propounded thus. Why should
not all transfers of energy, whether in living or non-living
bodies, be accompanied by a "somewhat "that is akin to
man's mental life? The arguments in favour of such a view are
numerous, many-sided, and cumulative. The hypothesis of
evolution gives them keen edge and gathering force. Behind the
cosmic process men feel there must be a creative power, an
animating impulse. The struggle upwards must mean something.
Mechanism is but a mode of working--its Ground is soul, or spirit.

Thus a new day is dawning for a soundly critical animism. It is
realised that to formulate "laws" in accordance with which
certain modes of happening take place is not to pierce to the
heart of things, but to rest on the surface. Mechanism explains
nothing and leaves us poor indeed! Whereas, the universe is a
majestic manifestation of Becoming--of a veritable
development of life.

The line between organic and inorganic is fading more and
more from the minds of investigators. Protoplasm, for instance,
mingles together mechanical, chemical, and vital in a fused
whole, which it passes the wit of man to analyse. The
connection between body and soul is similarly found to defy the
old distinctions between matter and mind. Clearly a universal
life is pulsating in the whole; genuine impulses, not mechanical
stresses and strains, are the causes of the upward sweep into
fuller consciousness and richer complexity of experience. The
old conception of a world soul is achieving a new lease of life,
and is dowering science with the human interest and the mystic
glow it so sorely lacks.



The idea that inorganic nature is not merely informed by reason,
but is also possessed of will and consciousness, will strike many
serious students as bizarre and fanciful. There is an enormous
amount of initial prejudice still to be overcome before it can
secure a fair general hearing. It will therefore be advisable to
pass in review the teachings of certain modern thinkers, of
recognised authority, who have espoused and openly advocated
this bizarre idea. And with a view to insuring further
confidence, the _ipsissima verba_ of these authorities will be
freely quoted, where there may be fear of misunderstanding or
misrepresentation. The review will be confined to modern
thinkers, because the views of the ancients in this regard,
though frequently of intense interest, will not carry weight in a
matter which so largely depends upon recent research and

Leibniz profoundly influenced the course of what we may term
"animistic" thought by his doctrine of monads. Whereas
Descartes had defined substance as extension, Leibniz
conceived it as activity, or active force, and as divided up into
an infinite number and variety of individual centres, each with
its own force or life, and, up to a certain point, each with its
own consciousness. All beings are thus essentially akin, but
differ in the grades of consciousness to which they attain. But
since consciousness depends on organisation, and since
organisation is constantly developing, there is continuous
progress. Each individual monad develops from within by
virtue of a spiritual element which it possesses--that is to say,
not mechanically, but from an internal principle, implying
sensation and desire. These monads, when looked at from
without, are grouped together into various extended objects. If
we ask Leibniz how such inwardly developing centres are
combined together into a universe, his reply is that God has so
ordered things that each monad develops in definite relation to
all the rest; they all keep time, like clocks with different works,
springs, pendulums, but regulated to mark simultaneously each
period of time as it passes. This is the famous theory of
pre-established harmony.

This doctrine grants the nature-mystic all he needs, but in an
artificial way which fails to carry conviction. The universe is
split up into isolated units which have no real connection with
each other save through ideas in the mind of God. Communion
with nature, however, should be more direct and more organic
than that effected by a pre-established harmony. Is it possible to
retain the strong points of the theory while securing organic
interpenetration of all modes of existence? Lotze, for one,
deemed it possible. Here is an interesting and typical passage
from his "Philosophy of Religion." "If it is once held
conceivable that a single supreme intelligence may exert an
influence on the reciprocal relations of the elements of the
world, then similar intelligence may also be imagined as
immediately active in all these individual elements themselves;
and instead of conceiving them as controlled merely by blindly
operative forces, they may be imagined as animated spiritual
beings, who strive after certain states, and offer resistance to
certain other states. In such case there may be imagined the
gradual origin of ever more perfect relations, from the
reciprocal action of these elements, almost like the reciprocal
action of a human society; and that too without necessarily
arriving at the assumption to which we are here inclined, of a
single, supreme, intelligent Being. Our reasoning issues rather
in a sort of polytheistic or pantheistic conception, and that too in
quite tolerable agreement with experience."

Lotze, then, conceives the monads to be organically related, and
so combined into one world. He himself inclines to regard them
as all dependent upon one supreme Being. But it is to be
carefully observed that he does not negative the pluralist
hypothesis as inconceivable or impracticable. Indeed, a little
later in the same context, he allows that "a multiplicity of beings
who share with each other in the creation and control of the
world" is more in harmony with the immediate impressions of
experience than "the hasty assumption of one only supreme
wisdom, from which as their source the imperfections of the
world, that in fact are manifest to us, are much more difficult to
comprehend." Lotze may thus be summoned as a supporter of
the contention (urged in an earlier chapter) that the Pluralist
may be a genuine mystic. Interpenetration and co-operation may
supply the place of the metaphysical unity at which the
Absolutists aim. But the main point here is, that Lotze
conceives the universe as organically and spiritually related in
all its parts. It all shares in a common life.

Of a monadistic character, also, are the two closely related
views known as the Mind-Dust theory, and the Mind-Stuff
theory. The former postulates particles or atoms of mind,
distinct from material atoms, but, like them, pervading all
nature, and, under certain conditions, combining to form
conscious mind. The latter does not thus separate mind and
matter, but assumes that primordial units of mind-stuff sum
themselves together and engender higher and more complex
states of mind, and themselves constitute what appears to us as
matter. James in his larger Psychology keenly criticised this
"psychic monadism," and has in his Oxford Lectures on a
"Pluralistic Universe," substantially modified his criticism. It is
not necessary to enter into further detail, but to grasp the fact
that such modern scientists as Clifford inclined to see in the
world, at every point, a manifestation of some grade of
consciousness, and therefore of kinship. The noted French
philosopher, Renouvier, has also resuscitated the monadistic
theory in a form more closely allied to that of Leibniz.

Discussion of the merits and demerits of these various views is
not now in question, but only their value as evidence of the
trend towards a critical animism. The inadequacy of the
mechanical view came home even to a mathematician like

We turn to a very different form of speculation, yet one equally
favourable to the essential contention of the nature-mystic--that
of Schopenhauer, a philosopher whose system is attracting
closer and keener attention as the years pass by. Certain of his
views have been cursorily mentioned in what has preceded, and
will find further mention in what is to follow. But here, the aim
is to focus attention on his fundamental doctrine, that the
Ground of all existence is Will. His line of argument in arriving
at this conclusion is briefly to be stated thus. The nature of
things-in-themselves would remain an eternal secret to us, were
it not that we are able to approach it, not by knowledge of
external phenomena, but by inner experience. Every knowing
being is a part of nature, and it is in his own self-consciousness
that a door stands open for him through which he can approach
nature. That which makes itself most immediately known within
himself is will; and in this will is to be found the _Welt-stoff_.
Let Schopenhauer speak for himself. "Whoever, I say, has
with me gained this conviction . . . will recognise this will
of which we are speaking, not only in those phenomenal
existences which exactly resemble his own, in men and animals,
as their inmost nature, but the course of reflection will lead him
to recognise the force which germinates and vegetates in the
plant, and indeed the force through which the crystal is formed,
that by which the magnet turns to the North Pole, the force
whose shock he experiences from the contact of two different
kinds of metal, the force which appears in the elective affinities
of matter as repulsion and attraction, decomposition and
combination, and, lastly, even gravitation, which acts so
powerfully throughout matter, draws the stone to the earth and
the earth to the sun--all these, I say, he will recognise as
different only in their phenomenal existence, but in their inner
nature as identical, as that which is directly known to him so
intimately and so much better than anything else, and which in
its most distinct manifestation is called will."

Here again we have standing ground for the creed and the
experiences of the nature-mystic. All forms and modes of
existence are akin, and differ only in their phenomenal
conditions. Whether Schopenhauer has not laid too exclusive an
emphasis on will; whether he has not unnecessarily chosen the
lowest types of will as primitive--these are questions to be
discussed elsewhere. Enough that we have in this theory a
definite return to critical animism. He holds the universe to be
throughout of the same "stuff," and that stuff is psychic or
spiritual. Body and soul, matter and spirit, are but different
aspects of the same underlying Reality.

Nevertheless, one question does press upon the nature-mystic.
Is the will to be conscious of its activities? Schopenhauer's
Ground-will is a blindly heaving desire. If his contention be
granted, Nature Mysticism will be shorn of its true glory.
Communion with nature, though it rest on passive intuition,
must somehow be associated with consciousness, if it is to be
that which we best know. That is to say, nature's self-activity
must be analogous to our own throughout--analogous, not
identical. And such a conclusion commends itself to a thinker as
careful and scientific as Stout, who in his "Manual of
Psychology" writes as follows: "The individual consciousness,
as we know it, must be regarded as a payment of a wider whole,
by which its origin and its changes are determined. As the brain
forms only a fragmentary portion of the total system of natural
phenomena, so we must assume the stream of individual
consciousness to be in like manner part of an immaterial
system. We must further assume that this immaterial system in
its totality is related to nervous processes taking place in the
cortex of the brain."

So, too, James, in his "Varieties of Religious Experience,"
declares that "our normal waking consciousness, rational
consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of
consciousness; whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest
of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely
different. We may go through life without suspecting their
existence; but apply the requisite stimulus and at a touch they
are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality
and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be
final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite

A thinker of a very different type, Royce, in his "World and the
Individual," concurs in this idea of a wider, universal
consciousness. "We have no right whatever to speak of really
unconscious Nature, but only of uncommunicative Nature, or of
Nature whose mental processes go on at such different time-rates
from ours that we cannot adjust ourselves to a live appreciation
of their inward fluency, although our consciousness does
make us aware of their presence. . . . Nature is thus a vast
conscious process, whose relation to time varies vastly,
but whose general characteristics are throughout the
same. From this point of view evolution would be a series of
processes suggesting to us various degrees and types of
conscious processes. The processes, in case of so-called
inorganic matter are very remote from us, while in the case of
the processes of our fellows we understand them better." Again
he calls Nature "a vast realm of finite consciousness of which
your own is at once a part and an example."

A thinker of still another type, Paulsen, whose influence in
Germany was so marked, and whose death we so lately
lamented, was whole-heartedly a sympathiser with Fechner's
views. How James also sympathised with them we saw at the
beginning of the last chapter. Paulsen, on his own account,
writes thus: "Is there a higher, more comprehensive psychical
life than that which we experience, just as there is a lower one?
Our body embraces the cells as elementary organisms. We
assume that in the same way our psychical life embraces the
inner life of the elementary forms, embracing in it their
conscious and unconscious elements. Our body again is itself
part of a higher unity, a member of the total life of our planet,
and together with the latter, articulated with a more
comprehensive cosmical system, and ultimately articulated with
the All. Is our psychical life also articulated with a higher unity,
a more comprehensive system of consciousness? Are the
separate heavenly bodies, to start with, bearers of a unified
inner life? Are the stars, is the earth an animated being? The
poets speak of the earth-spirit; is that more than a poetic
metaphor? The Greek philosophers, among them Plato and
Aristotle, speak of astral spirits; is that more than the last
reflection of a dream of childish fancy?"

And thus we have come to the fullness of the nature-mystic's
position. Reason, will, feeling, consciousness, below us and
above us. As Naegeli, the famous botanist puts it, "the human
mind is nothing but the highest development on our earth of the
mental processes which universally animate and move nature."
To this world-view the child of nature and the philosopher
return again and again. Deep calls unto deep. The exaggerated
and dehumanising claims of purely physical and mechanical
concepts may for a time obscure the intuition by their specious
clarity, but the feelings and the wider consciousness in man
reassert themselves. The stars of heaven no longer swing as
masses of mere physical atoms in a dead universe, they shine in
their own right as members in a living whole. Wordsworth
speaks for the forms of life beneath us when he exclaims:

    "And 'tis my faith that every flower
    Enjoys the air it breathes."

Emerson speaks for the realm of the inorganic when he assures

    "The sun himself shines heartily
    And shares the joy he brings."

The great world around us is felt to pulse with inner life and
meaning. It is seen, not only as real, not only as informed with
reason, but as sentient. The old speculations of Empedocles that
love and hate are the motive forces in all things gleams out in a
new light. And that sense of oneness with his physical
environment which the nature-mystic so often experiences and
enjoys is recognised as an inevitable outcome of the facts of
existence. Goethe is right:

    "Ihr folget falsche Spur;
        Denkt nicht, wir scherzon!
    Ist nicht der Kern der Natur
        Menschen im Herzen."



The materials are now fairly complete for understanding the rise
and development of animism. The untrained primitive intellect
was stirred by vague intuitions--stimulated by contact with an
external world constituted of essentially the same "stuff" as
itself--and struggled to find concrete expression for its
experiences. The root idea round which all else grouped itself
was that of the agency of indwelling powers like unto man's, but
endowed with wider activities, and unhampered by many
human limitations. The forms of expression adopted often
appear to us to be almost gratuitously absurd; but when we put
ourselves as nearly as may be at the primitive point of view, we
realise that they were not even illogical. The marvel is that out
of the seething chaos of sensations and emotions there could
arise the solid structure of even the simplest kinds of
conceptual, ordered knowledge.

There are few critics, however, who are not now prepared to put
themselves into sympathetic touch with the primitive thinker;
but there are still many who hesitate, or refuse, to allow any
value to the products of his thinking. These products are too
frequently dismissed as the fancies and babblings of ages in
which real knowledge was not as yet a practicable achievement.
Such an estimate is as unfair as it is unphilosophical. It
disregards the part played by intuition, and it is blind to the
germs of truth which were destined to ripen into noble fruit.
Mother Earth, with air and sunshine, and starry heaven above,
nurtured men's thoughts and souls as well as their bodies.

There is more than an analogy between the childhood of the
race and the childhood of the individual. And just as the child
plunges us at times, by questions, into problems of the deepest
import, so is it with unexpected flashes of insight preserved for
us in the records, written or unwritten, of the earliest workings
of the human mind. "The soul of man" (says Caird), "even at its
worst, is a wonderful instrument for the world to play on; and in
the vicissitudes of life, it cannot avoid having its highest chords
at times touched, and an occasional note of perfect music drawn
from it, as by a wandering hand on the strings."

It is remarkable how, in spite of the enormous advances made
by civilised thought, our concepts and hypotheses, not
excepting those deemed most fundamental, are being constantly
modified. How much more would change prevail in ages when
structured knowledge had hardly come into existence. But
whether the pace of change be slow or rapid, the same impelling
cause is at work--man's determination to find fuller expression
for his intuitional experience. Animism developed into
mythology, mythology into gnomic philosophy, and this again
became differentiated into science, art, philosophy, and
theology. In the earlier stages, the instability of men's
imaginings and conceptions was kaleidoscopic; but it was no
more governed by wanton fickleness and caprice than is the
course of modern thought. The human spirit was striving then,
as now, to realise worlds vaguely experienced and dimly
surmised. The more imperfect expression was continuously
yielding place to the less imperfect--the lower concept
continuously yielding place to the higher. And at the base of the
whole great movement upwards was sensation, as the simplest
mode of intuition--sensation being, in its various forms and
developments, the outcome of man's intercourse with an
external world that, in its essence, is spiritual like himself.

The main error of animism was its failure to draw distinctions.
It tended to look upon nature as equally and fully human in all
its parts. It translated its intuitions of kinship into terms of
undifferentiated similarity, and thereby entangled itself in
hopeless confusions. But by degrees the stubborn facts of
existence made their impression, and compelled men to realise
that life on the human plane is one thing, and quite another on
the plane of external nature. The attempt to absorb the larger
truth thus sighted was only partially successful, and gave birth
to the wondrous world of mythology. Its chief characteristic
was that the will which was at first conceived to be within, or
identical with, the object, was separated from the object and
accorded a personal, or quasi-personal existence. In other
words, the non-human character of external nature was
acknowledged, while at the same time the human type of will
was preserved. The river, for example, was at first regarded as
itself an animated being; then the will it manifests was
separated from the material phenomena, and by personification
became a river-god who rules the phenomena. So the sun gave
rise to the conception of Apollo; and, by a double remove, the
lightning became a weapon in the hand of Zeus. There was thus
added to man's world of things a second world of spiritual
beings who animated and swayed the things. The change was
momentous; but it held fast to the original root idea of nature as
a manifestation of spiritual powers.

It was inevitable that the mythological system should collapse
when once the spontaneous play of imaginative thought gave
place to self-conscious, systematising reflection. The mass of
incoherent, and often contradictory myths, in which the true was
so strangely blended with the false, the beautiful with the ugly
or revolting, fell almost by its own weight. The more solid
materials it contained were first transmuted into allegories, and
then expressed in the language of science and philosophy. The
original intuitions, which had been encumbered with degrading
superstitions and deadening ceremonies, again declared their
power and their persistence, though sometimes under disguises
which rendered them hard to recognise.

And very instructive and arresting it is to note how haltingly
conscious reflection assimilated the rich store of ideas which
spontaneous intuition had seized upon whole ages previously.
For instance, Anaxagoras taught that since the world presents
itself as an ordered and purposeful whole, the forming force or
agency must also be purposeful. Following up this line of
thought, and guided by the analogy of human activities, he
declared this agency to be Nous, or reason--or, better still,
"reason-stuff." This conclusion was rightly deemed to be of
profound importance. And yet, when we analyse it, it seems at
first sight difficult to see wherein consists its originality. For
what else but this had been taught by the age-old animism that
had preceded it? And yet all who were fitted to judge hailed the
teaching as something radically new. It stirred far-reaching
currents in the deep ocean of Greek philosophic thought! How
can we explain the apparent anomaly? The fact is we have here
a typical instance of the transition from intuition to reflective
thought. There is a conscious grasp of promptings dimly felt--a
grasp that rendered possible the advance from mythology to
science and philosophy. The gain was enormous, and bore
abundant fruit; but it should not be allowed to obscure the merit,
nor the value, of the primitive intuition on which it was based.

It must be evident that similar examples might be multiplied
indefinitely, and certain of them will be adduced when typical
nature-myths are under more detailed consideration. It is
because of these germ truths enshrined in the ancient myths that
so many bygone modes of thought and expression last on into
the new order. Ruskin, in genuine mythological style, often
used the term "gods," and explains his meaning thus: "By gods,
in the plural, I mean the totality of spiritual powers delegated by
the Lord of the universe to do in their several heights, or offices,
parts of His will respecting man, or the world that man is
imprisoned in; not as myself knowing, or in security believing,
that there are such, but in meekness accepting the testimony and
belief of all ages . . . myself knowing for indisputable fact, that
no true happiness exists, nor is any good work ever done by
human creatures, but in the sense or imagination of such

The nature-mystic need not be ashamed of mythology. Sympathetically
studied, it affords abundant proof of the working of intuition
and mystic insight. It enabled multitudes of men, long
before science and philosophy became conscious aims, to
enter into some of the deepest truths of existence, and
to live as members of a vast spiritual hierarchy embracing earth
and heaven.



What a charm the nature deities of Greece and Rome can still
exercise! How large the place they still occupy in poetry, art,
and general culture! At times some of our moderns are tempted
to look back with a very real measure of regret to the golden age
of mythology, feeling that in comparison the present is often
sadly dull and sordid. Wordsworth's great sonnet gives classical
expression to this mood, and rises to a white heat of

            "Great God! I'd rather be
        A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,--
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
        Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
        Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn."

It may be said that the poet is carried away by the feeling of the
moment. It finds expression, however, more calmly, though no
less decidedly, in a less well-known passage:

    "O fancy, what an age was that for song!
    That age, when not by laws inanimate,
    As men believed, the waters were impelled,
    The air controlled, the stars their courses held;
    But element and orb on _acts_ did wait
    Of Powers endued with visible form instinct,
    With will, and to their work by passion linked."

Clearly mythology and nature-poetry are closely allied though
centuries come between: they breathe the same air though
"creeds outworn" have yielded place to deeper faiths. And we are
driven to ask--Is poetry in its turn to go?--poetry, at any rate,
of the old, simple, direct sort? Reflective reason is asserting
itself: critical methods play havoc with the spontaneous
creations of imagination. Coleridge, in one of his moods, would
almost persuade us so. In his "Piccolomini" Max is conversing
with the Countess:

    "The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
    The fair humanities of old religion,
    The power, the beauty and the majesty,
    That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,
    Or forest by slow stream, or pebbly spring,
    Or chasms and wat'ry depths; all these have vanished;
    They live no longer in the faith of reason."

And yet Coleridge did not allow that the outlook was wholly
sad. His young soldier continues:

    "But still the heart doth need a language, still
    Doth the old instinct bring back the old names."
            . . . and even at this day
    'Tis Jupiter who brings whate'er is great,
    And Venus who brings everything that's fair."

No, poetry is not dead, and never will die. Certain stages in
human progress may favour its spontaneity more than others--
critical reflection may cloud over the naive and fresh directness
of experience--but behind each natural phenomenon is the
immanent idea, the phase of cosmic will and consciousness,
which science, and logic and critical analysis can never exhaust.
The intuition has its rights as well as the syllogism, and will
always ultimately assert them. Whereas science reduces the
world to mechanism, poetry intuits and struggles to express its
inner life; and since this inner life is inexhaustible, poetry is
immortal. Emerson seized upon this truth with characteristic
keenness of perception allied with feeling.

    "For Nature beats in perfect time
    And rounds with rhyme her every rune,
    Whether she work in land or sea,
    Or hide underground her alchemy.
    Thou canst not wave thy staff in air,
    Or dip thy paddle in the lake,
    But it carves the bow of beauty there,
    And the ripples in rhymes the oar forsake.
    The wood is wiser far than thou;
    The wood and the wave each other know
    Not unrelated, unaffected,
    But to each thought and thing allied
    Is perfect Nature's every part,
    Rooted in the mighty heart."

And again in his "Ode to Beauty," he rejoices in the

    "Olympian bards who sung
    Divine Ideas below,
    Which always find us young
    And always keep us so."

Thank Heaven, we have not yet come to think that the highest
form of wisdom is enshrined in the _sesquipedalia monstra_ of
chemical formulae, still less in the extreme abstractions of
mathematics. Not that such formulae have not a beauty, and
even a Mysticism of their own; their harmfulness comes from
the exclusiveness of their claims when they are advanced as an
adequate description (sometimes explanation!) of existence at
large and of life in particular. The biological formulas, based on
mathematics, at which Le Dantec, for instance, has arrived, if
taken at their author's valuation, and if consistently applied,
would make the sublimest poetry to be greater folly than the
babble of a child. The nature-mystic may, or may not, allow
them a relative value according as he considers them to be valid
or invalid abstractions from observed facts; but he knows that
the most valid of them are exceedingly limited in their scope
and superficial in their bearing: and it remains a standing
wonder to him that any trained intellect can fail to realise their
miserable inadequacy, in view of the full rich current of living

One of the chief merits of genuine nature-poetry is that it keeps
us in close and constant touch with sense experience, and at the
same time brings home nature's inner life and meaning. It is not
a mere string of metaphors and symbols based on accidental
associations of ideas, but an expression and interpretation of
definite sensations and intuitions which result from the action of
man's physical environment upon his deepest and most delicate
faculties. "High art" (says Myers) "is based upon unprovable
intuitions; and of all arts it is poetry whose intuitions take the
brightest glow, and best illumine the mystery without us from
the mystery within."

But more especially, poetry is essentially animistic. It produces
its characteristic effect by creating in the mind the sensuous
images which best stimulate the mind to grasp the immanent
idea, and it presents those images as instinct with life and
movement--sometimes it goes so far as to personify them. This
is what Matthew Arnold meant when he declared poetry to be
"simple, sensuous, passionate." Coleridge has a good illustration
(quoted by Nisbet). He observes that the lines:

    "Behold yon row of pines that shorn and bowed
    Bend from the sea-blast, seen at twilight eve"--

contain little or no poetry if rearranged as a sentence in a book
of topography or description of a tour. But the same image, he
says, rises into the semblance of poetry if thus conveyed:

    "Yon row of black and visionary pines
    By twilight glimpse discerned! Mark how they flee
    From the fierce sea-blast, all their tresses wild
    Streaming before them."

The difference in the two presentations consists in this, that in
the second of them there is a suggestion of life and movement
which is lacking in the first. But why the different effect upon
the mind? Nisbet answers--"the visual and motor centres
contribute to the creation of the image"--an answer admirably
typical of the fashionable psychology of the day, not necessarily
wrong in itself, but so curiously incomplete! Nisbet holds that
man himself is a machine, and thus could not easily go farther--
especially as his own machinery evidently would not work any
farther. The nature-mystic begins at the other end. He holds that
even the inorganic world is more than machinery--that it is
instinct with life and meaning. When, therefore, life and
movement are attributed to seemingly inert or motionless
objects, there is a responsive thrill caused by the subconscious
play of primitive intuitions that are based on the facts of
existence. Spirit realises more vividly than in normal experience
that it is in touch with spirit.

Contrast with the psychological dictum the proud claim
advanced by Emerson.

    "The gods talk in the breath of the woods,
    They talk in the shaken pine,
    And fill the reach of the old sea-shore
    With melody divine.
    And the poet who overhears
    Some random word they say
    Is the fated man of men,
    Whom the ages must obey."

There are two claims presented here--one directly, the other
indirectly. The direct claim is that there are seers and
interpreters who can catch the mystic words that nature utters.
The indirect is that the general mass of humanity have the
capacity for sharing the experiences of their poet leaders. The
one class are endowed to an exceptional degree with receptivity;
the other are also receptive, but are dependent on those who can
give expression to the intuitions which are, though in varying
degrees, a possession common to humanity at large. As Sir
Lewis Morris puts it:

    "All men are poets if they might but tell
    The dim ineffable changes which the sight
    Of natural beauty works on them."

He, too, recognises the mediating function of the poet.

            "We are dumb,
    Save that from finer souls at times may rise
    Once in an age, faint inarticulate sounds,
    Low halting tones of wonder, such as come
    From children looking on the stars, but still
    With power to open to the listening ear
    The Fair Divine Unknown, and to unseal
    Heaven's inner gates before us evermore."

And what is this but to claim for the mass of men, in varying
but definite degrees, a capacity for the experiences of the
nature-mystic? Poetry and Nature Mysticism are linked together
in an imperishable life so long as man is man and the world is
the world.

It will have been apparent that in what has been said about the
relation of poetry to science, there has been no shadow of
hostility to science as such, but only to the exclusive claims so
often preferred on its behalf. Let a French philosopher of the
day conclude this chapter by a striking statement of the
relationship that should exist between these seemingly
incompatible modes of mental activity. In a recent number of
the "Revue Philosophique," Joussain writes as follows:

"On peut ainsi se demander si le savant, a mesure qu'il tend vers
une connaissance plus complete du reel, n'adopte pas, en un
certain sens, le point de vue propre au poete. Boileau disait de la
physique de Descartes qu'elle avait coupe la gorge a la poesie.
La raison en est qu'elle s'en tenait au pur mecanisme et ne
definissait la matiere que par l'etendue et le mouvement. Mais la
physique de Descartes n'a pu subsister. Et, avec la gravitation
universelle que Leibniz considerait a juste titre, du point de vue
cartesien, comme une _qualite occulte_, avec les attractions, les
repulsions, les affinites chimiques, avec la theorie de
l'evolution, la science tend de plus en plus a penetrer la vie reele
des choses. Elle se rapproche, bon gre, mal gre, de la
metaphysique et de la poesie, en prenant une conscience plus
profonde de la force et du devenir. C'est qu'au fond la pensee
humaine est une, quelle que soit la diversite des objets auxquels
elle s'applique, art, science, poesie, metaphysique, repondant,
chacun a sa facon au meme desir, chacun refletant dans la
conscience humaine les multiples aspects de la vie



A charge frequently brought against the nature-mystic is that he
ignores the dark side of nature, and shuts his eyes to the ugly
and repulsive features of the world of external phenomena. If
nature can influence man's spiritual development, what (it is
asked) can be the effect of its forbidding and revolting aspects?
Is the champion of cosmic emotion and of Nature Mysticism
prepared to find a place for the ugly in his general scheme? The
issue is grave and should not be shirked. It is, moreover, of long
standing, having been gripped in its essentials by many thinkers
of the old world, more especially by Plato, Aristotle, and

Let us begin by examining one or two characteristic statements
of the indictment that there are ugly, and even revolting, objects
in a world we would fain think fair. Jefferies says of certain
creatures captured in the sea: "They have no shape, form, grace,
or purpose; they call up a vague sense of chaos which the mind
revolts from. . . . They are not inimical of intent towards man,
not even the shark; but there the shark is, and that is enough.
These miserably hideous things of the sea are not anti-human in
the sense of persecution, they are outside, they are ultra and
beyond. It is like looking into chaos, and it is vivid because
these creatures, interred alive a hundred fathoms deep, are
seldom seen; so that the mind sees them as if only that moment
they had come into existence. Use has not habituated it to them,
so that their anti-human character is at once apparent, and stares
at us with glassy eye."

Kingsley, in his "At Last," asks, "Who will call the Puff Adder
of the Cape, or the Fer-de-lance, anything but horrible and ugly;
not only for the hostility signified, to us at least, by a flat
triangular head and heavy jaw, but by the look of malevolence
and craft signified, to us at least, by the eye and lip?"

Frederic Harrison puts the case from the more general point of
view: "The world is not all radiant and harmonious; it is often
savage and chaotic. In thought we can see only the bright, but in
hard fact we are brought face to face with the dark side. Waste,
ruin, conflict, rot, are about us everywhere. . . . We need as little
think this earth all beauty as think it all horror. It is made up of
loveliness and ghastliness; of harmony and chaos; of agony,
joy, life, death. The nature-worshippers are blind and deaf to the
waste and the shrieks which meet the seeker after truth. . . . The
poets indeed are the true authors of the beauty and order of
nature; for they see it by the eye of genius. And they alone see
it. Coldly, literally examined, beauty and horror, order and
disorder seem to wage an equal and eternal war."

In considering the substance of these strong statements,
characteristic of very different types of mind, we note in the
first place that two different problems are to some extent fused--
that of the ugly, and that of the morally evil. Of course, it is
frequently impossible to separate them; still, for purposes of
analysis, the attempt should be made; especially as our present
quest is aesthetic rather than ethical.

In the second place it must be remembered that the nature-mystic
is by no means a nature-worshipper. His claim of kinship
with nature surely implies the contrary! He knows that
evil and ugliness (however interpreted) are in man, and he
expects therefore to find them permeating the whole.

Confining our attention as far as may be to the aesthetic aspect
of the objections raised, let us at once define and face the
real issue now before us, namely, the significance for the
nature-mystic of what is called "ugliness."

There are certain judgments known as aesthetic--so called
because they determine the aesthetic qualities of objects. And it
is agreed, with practical unanimity, that they rest much more
upon feeling and intuition than upon discursive reason. To this
extent they rank as genuine "mystical" modes of experience,
and from this point of view have bulked largely in the systems
of mystics like Plato and Plotinus. But while claiming them as
mystical, it is necessary to note that they possess a characteristic
which constitutes them a special class. They imply reference to
a standard, or an ideal. The reference need not be made, indeed
seldom is made, with any conscious apprehension of the
standard; but the reference is none the less there, and a
judgment results. The place of reflective reasoning process
which characterises the logical judgment is filled by a peculiar
thrill which accompanies a feeling of congruence or incongruence,
according as the ideal is satisfied or otherwise.

It is in accord with this view of the aesthetic judgment that
while, for reason, the outward form and semblance of the object
is of subsidiary import, save from the point of view of abstract
form and physical quality, for the aesthetic feeling or intuition it
is paramount. For example, a botanist, _qua_ botanist, will reck
little of beauty of colour, or curve, or scent--indeed at times his
interest in a plant may be in inverse ratio to its beauty. But the
lover of flowers, or the poet, or the artist, will fix upon such
aesthetic qualities as determining his mood and judgment. Not
that the reflective and the aesthetic judgments are antagonistic--
they are supplementary, and, when rightly appreciated, they are
interdependent; nevertheless, they must not be confused.

The doctrine of Plotinus, the prince of mystics, is very helpful
when the problem of the ugly is in debate, and fits in admirably
with the considerations just advanced. His theory was that
material objects are beautiful in proportion as they share in
reason and form. The converse of this proposition is, that
objects are ugly in proportion as they lack the capacity for
sharing in reason and form. Passing over certain other phases of
his doctrine, let us see how far this theory will carry us in
answering the question--Is there in nature such a thing as
ugliness, in any absolute sense of the term?

Matter, as known to the modern scientist, is universally
possessed of form of some kind, and is, moreover, found to
share in reason, when tested by its responsiveness, so to speak,
to the processes of human ratiocination--or, in other words, by
its obedience to natural law. It would seem to follow that there
is no object in nature which is absolutely ugly. And the
conclusion surely commends itself to common sense. If, in spite
of this, certain objects are called "ugly," what is intended?
Following up the lead of Plotinus, we seem to be driven to the
conception of "degrees of beauty"--of "higher" and "lower"
forms of beauty. And the moment the existence of such
"degrees" is accepted, the aesthetic horizon is indefinitely
extended. The whole problem assumes larger and more generous
proportions, especially when viewed in the light of the
evolution hypothesis. For where there are degrees, or stages, it
is an easy step to conceive of transition from stage to stage. An
ugly object is only relatively ugly; and by entering into new
relations with its environment may be raised to even higher rank
in the aesthetic scale of values. In brief, true progress becomes
possible for the whole universe. Herbert Spencer stopped short
at progress from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous. It is
more interesting, not to say, inspiring, to postulate increase of
capacity for sharing in reason and form. The vast process of
evolution may then be viewed as an upward sweep into fuller
beauty and into correspondingly fuller life.

Of the fact that there is such an upward process, there is
abundant and accumulating evidence. The struggle upwards of
organic life, culminating so far, in man as we know him--the
increasingly complex beauty of natural forms--the haste of
nature to conceal her scars--all alike speak of a striving upward.
Nay, we are being told that the atoms themselves, so long
regarded as ultimates, have been subjected to the evolutionary
stress and strain, and have advanced from the simplest forms to
higher and more complex symmetries. And in another field, the
arts, more particularly painting and the drama, almost demand
the recognition of some such principle of progress; for they are
constantly and necessarily using elements which in themselves
are accounted ugly, for the production of their supremest

The use of discords in music is singularly suggestive in this
regard. There are combinations of musical sounds which, when
produced as isolated combinations, are harsh, and even painful.
But let them be heralded by other chords, and let them be parted
from by suitable resolutions, and they can charm, or thrill, or
kindle deep emotion. What does this fact imply? That discords
in music, when used with knowledge and mastery, do not take
their places as aliens in musical progressions--as insertions of
ugliness in a texture of surrounding beauty--_but as themselves
beautiful_. Their aesthetic value is gained by their being linked
up in a network of relations which makes them part and parcel
of that which is an ordered and rational whole. In short, discords
are potential beauties; they have capacity for form and reason.

The ugly, then, is not to be opposed to the beautiful as its
contrary, but as standing in the relation to it of the less to the
more perfect. There will thus be grades of beauty as there are
grades of reality. And mystic intuition will have corresponding
grades of dignity and insight. The grand process of evolution is
thus revealed as a many-sided whole--the amount of real
existence increases in proportion to the increase of capacity for
sharing in form and reason; and along with this goes a growth in
power to appreciate the ever higher forms of beauty which
emerge in the upward-striving universe.

A further thought calls for emphasis. For beings like ourselves,
living under conditions which involve so many limitations, a
_purely_ aesthetic judgment is practically out of our reach. And
on this score also we may venture to tone down the strong
expressions used by Jefferies in his estimate of the anti- or
ultra-human character of the strange creatures in the sea. Individual
likings and dislikings are the resultants of an enormously
complex system of impulses, instincts, prejudices, motives,
habits, associations, and the rest. Few of these factors appear
above the threshold of consciousness, though they are
continually and influentially operative. Hence it by no means
follows that because a particular object is displeasing or
disgusting to one individual, or group of individuals, it will be
so to all. So undoubted is the resulting relativity of our aesthetic
judgments that Hegel was inclined to hold that below the level
of man and art there is no real ugliness at all. "Creatures" (he
says) "seem ugly to us whose forms are typical of qualities
opposed to vitality in general, or to what we have learnt to
regard as their own special or typical form of animate existence.
Thus the sloth as wanting in vitality, and the platypus as
seeming to combine irreconcilable types, and crocodiles and
many kinds of insects, simply, it would appear, because we are
not accustomed to consider their forms as adequate expressions
of life, are all ugly."

Just as, in music, discords become beautiful by being brought
into fitting relations with other parts of an ordered whole, so is
it with objects which are usually considered ugly, but which are
capable of aesthetic beauty when treated in pictures by masters
of their craft. To set them in new and fitting relations of light
and shade, of colour and composition, is to transform them.
Schopenhauer lays great stress on the transforming power of art.
He instances many typical paintings of the Dutch school, simple
interiors, homely scenes, fruit, vegetables, the commonest tools
and utensils, even dead flesh--all are taken up into material for
pictures, and, in their special setting, compel our admiration.

We have in these facts concerning pictorial art, a strong
corroboration of the inference from the use of discords in
music--the relativity of ugliness, and the possibility of its
progressive transformation. But there is a further point to be
emphasised, one which music, by reason of its abstractness,
could not well enforce, and one which is of profound
significance for the nature-mystic. Pictorial art is concerned
with the representation of external objects. How explain its
transforming power? Schopenhauer has an excellent answer to
the question. He says that the artist is endowed with an
exceptional measure of intuitive insight. He enjoys a genuine
vision of the Idea immanent in the object he reproduces in his
particular medium--he fixes attention upon this Idea, isolates it,
and reveals much that would otherwise escape notice. The result
is that his skill enables others to slip into his mood and share his

It is on some such lines as those tentatively traced in the last
few paragraphs that the most hopeful solution of the problem of
the ugly must be sought. The heart of the matter is that there is
no object in external nature which is absolutely ugly--no object
which cannot, even as things are, be transformed to some
degree by being set in fitting relation to others--no object which
is not capable of progress in its capacity for sharing and
manifesting the form and reason towards which the universe is
striving. Should there be thinkers who, like Kingsley, cannot
quite rid themselves of the feeling that ugliness is an absolute
reality--a positive mode of existence over against beauty--they
can only take refuge in the wider problem of evil. But care must
be exercised, as before observed, to distinguish between moral
evil and physical ugliness. To what extent the one may be
reflected in the other is a question on which it would not be safe
to dogmatise. The main theory, however, stands out clearly, and
involves a belief that the material phenomena of the universe, as
a grand whole, enjoy a wholesome freedom from positive
ugliness. Tennyson's "Ancient Sage" expresses the nature-mystic's
hopes concerning the fundamental beauty of the world he loves.

    "My son, the world is dark with griefs and graves,
    So dark, that men cry out against the Heavens,
    Who knows but that the darkness is in man?
    The doors of Night may be the gates of Light;
    For wert thou born or blind or deaf, and then
    Suddenly healed, how wouldst thou glory in all
    The splendours and the voices of the world!
    And we, the poor earth's dying race, and yet
    No phantoms, watching from a phantom shore,
    Await the last and largest sense to make
    The phantom walls of this illusion fade,
    And show us that the world is wholly fair."



The fundamental postulates and principles of a consistent
Nature Mysticism have now been expounded with a fullness
sufficient to allow of a soberly enthusiastic study of the detail of
our subject. Let it be noted, however, that though a detailed
application of general conclusions is henceforth to be the main
business, there will be no forsaking of the broadly human
standpoint. For it has been shown, more especially in the
chapter on poetry, that the nature-mystic does not arrogate to
himself any unique place among his fellows, nor seek to enjoy,
in esoteric isolation, modes of experience denied to the mass of
humanity. Wordsworth, for instance, though a prince among
modern mystics, appealed with confidence to his countrymen at
large: his "we" was in constant evidence--and an ever-growing
multitude of nature-lovers responds to his appeal. That is to say,
the faculty of intuition he demands is to be found, in varying
degrees, latent at least, if not evolved, in the normal human
being. The gifted seer seizes and interprets what his less gifted
brother obscurely feels. Can we trace this mystic power of
nature on the scale of history at large? If the power is real, it
should be possible to recognise its grander workings. Moreover,
a wide outlook will help us to avoid exaggerations, preciosities,
and fanaticisms.

Here, then, is our starting-point for detailed study. If it be true
that all normal members of the race share in varying degrees the
faculty of mystic intuition, then nature must have had a
moulding effect not only on certain gifted individuals, but on
the character and destiny of whole communities, peoples, and
empires. As behind the language of the Greeks there were
age-long promptings of subconscious metaphysics, so behind the
aesthetic and spiritual development of this remarkable people
there must have been age-long promptings of subconscious
mystical intuitions stimulated by the influences of natural
phenomena. The moulding force of the immanent ideas, and of
the inner life of things, is, for the race at large, and for certain
peoples in particular, continuous, cumulative, massive. True, it
takes effect chiefly in the sphere of the subconscious. But he
will be a poor student of history who fails to reckon with those
subtler forces which, though obscure in their action, often
extend so widely and go so deep.

An eloquent evidence of nature's power to mould is to be found
in the contrasted characteristics of the great religions. The hardy
peoples of northwestern Europe were nurtured under stormy
skies, were girt in by stern, avalanche-swept mountains, and
struggled strenuously against the hardships of rigorous and
lengthy winters. What wonder that they filled their heaven with
_Sturm und Drang_--with titanic conflicts of the gods--and
heard it echoing with the whirl of hunting, the riot of feasting,
and the clang of battle? Their religion was strenuous as their
lives--free and fierce--yet tinged with a melancholy that
promised rich developments.

The favoured Greeks of classical times, "ever delicately
walking on most pellucid air," or rocked on the isle-strown
waters of the sapphire AEgaean, expanded their soul-life in an
environment teeming with light and colour, with harmony and
form. For them, therefore, Apollo bent his burnished bow and
launched his myriad shafts of gold; Aphrodite embodied visions
of foam-born beauty; Athene stood forth in panoply of reason
and restraint. Nature herself lured them to evolve ideals of law
and order, of disciplined thought and perfectly proportioned art.
What wonder that, prompted by mystic impulses and visions,
they purged their inherited religion of its grosser features, and
made it a vehicle for philosophic thought and spiritual

Pass to the wandering children of the desert, cradled amid the
great silences of space and time, swallowed up of vastness.
Above them by day the burning vault of blue, by night the
wheeling galaxies--around them the trackless levels of a thirsty
land. Such influences sank deep into their souls, and imparted
depth and intensity to their views of the source and meaning of
that vastness. Nor can we wonder that in such an environment,
the premonitions of the spiritual unity of existence, that were
stirring in many hearts, found special sustenance.

Let it be clearly understood that in the striking and
unmistakable illustrations just adduced, there is no mere
question of the influences of physical environment on social
organisation or economic development--though these also react
in a thousand ways upon ideas and ideals--but a question of
moulding spiritual concepts by the direct influence of the ideas
and impulses manifested in external nature. Man's soul was in
constant, if generally subconscious, communion with his
material environment, and his thinking was thereby largely
coloured and fashioned. And if the kind and quality of the
influence vary from age to age, and from people to people, it is
not the less continuously potent. The complexities of modern
life, the interminglings of civilisations, tend to obscure its
manifestations; science, wrongly pursued, seems hostile to
continued vigour. But underneath the play of the cross-currents
on the surface, is the resistless swing of the tide.

An illustration of another class is found in Max Mueller's
brilliant lectures on "Physical Religion," the chief theme of
which is the development of Agni, the Vedic god of fire. The
starting-point was the sensuous perception of the physical
qualities of fire. The Idea and the will immanent in these
qualities gradually raised men's thoughts from the material to
the spiritual, until the Eastern world attained to what Max
Mueller calls "a precious line from the Veda"--"He who above
the gods was the One God"--composed at least one thousand
years before the Christian era. It was not the result of a
supernatural revelation, but a natural outcome of man's thoughts
guided and moulded by impressions of outward phenomena.
That is to say, as Max Mueller observes, there was nothing in it
artificial--simply that which man could not help saying, being
what he was and seeing what he saw.

In the instances just advanced, the broad principle is most
assuredly established that nature has a definite and continuous
effect upon the development of man's conduct and thought. And
as a consequence of this, we may affirm that Wordsworth's
experience is true, in its measure, of all normal members of the
race who are in touch with nature:

            "Therefore am I still
    A lover of the meadows and the woods
    And mountains; and of all that we behold
    Of this green earth; both what they half create
    And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
    In nature and the language of the sense,
    The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
    The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
    Of all my moral being."

Why, even old Dr. Johnson in his Dictionary days would write
to his friend Langton, in Lincolnshire: "I shall delight to hear
the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men
to whom Nature does not spread her volumes or utter her voice
in vain." And let us observe, that the naturalness of his feeling
keeps him to the simplest, almost monosyllabic, English!



In an earlier chapter mention was made of that truly remarkable
group of thinkers who, in the sixth century before the Christian
era, made the momentous transition from mythology and
tradition to philosophy and science. It was also pointed out that
these pioneers, bold as they were, could not shake themselves
free from the social and intellectual conditions of their day. And
it is precisely this fact of what may be termed contemporary
limitations that makes a review of their speculations so valuable
to a student of Nature Mysticism. For they lived in times when
the old spontaneous nature beliefs were yielding to reflective
criticism. Their philosophising took its spring from the fittest
products of the mytho-poeic faculty, and thus remained in living
contact with the primitive past, while reaching forward, in the
spirit of the future, to an ordered knowledge of an ordered
whole. The chief object of their search was the _Welt-stoff_--
the substance of the universe--and they were guided in their
search by the dominating concepts which had emerged in the
long course of the animistic and mythological stages. Certain
forms of external existence have impressed themselves upon the
general mind, notably those of water, air, and fire; and to these
the reflecting mind naturally turned in its earliest efforts to
discover the Ground of things. The interest taken by the
nature-mystic in this group of thinkers is twofold. Firstly, he
finds that in their speculations there is a large element of
primitive intuition, embodied in concepts fashioned by the
spontaneous play of reflective thought and free imagination.
Closeness to nature is thus secured. And secondly, he rejoices
in the fact that these speculations, crude and premature as
they inevitably were, contained germs of thought and flashes
of insight which anticipate the most advanced speculative science
and philosophy of the present day. He maintains that here is
corroboration of his view of intuition. Nature was the teacher--
and it was to intuition that she chiefly addressed herself; and the
intellect--keen and fresh, but untrained--was able to seize upon
the material presented, and to fix it in concepts and theories
which share in nature's universal and unending life.

Water, air, and fire--what an enormous number and variety of
natural phenomena range themselves under these heads! If we
try to understand why they were singled out in turn, in the
search for the _Welt-stoff_, we shall have penetrated far into the
Nature Mysticism of these famous "elements."

Starting, then, with Thales, we ask why he fixed upon water in
his attempt (the earliest recorded) to determine the constitution
of the universe? What were the properties, qualities, and
functions of that "element" which arrested his attention, and
governed his crude, but acute and original, speculations? As
already remarked, existing cosmological conceptions played an
important role, more especially that of the great primeval ocean
on which the world was supposed to float. This cosmographical
ocean and its accompanying myths will be considered in a
subsequent chapter. But restricting our view at present to the
physical aspects of water, it is not wholly impossible to recover,
and sympathise with, his train of reasoning.

Water is wonderfully mobile, incessantly changing, impelled
apparently by some inherent principle of movement. Its
volatility, also, is very marked; it passes from solid to liquid,
and liquid to vapour, and easily reverses the series. More
especially would the old-world thinker be struck by the
phenomena of the circulation of water. He would see the vapour
drawn up by the sun from lake and ocean, seeming to feed the
heavenly fires, and returning to earth in the form of rain. He
concluded that this must represent the flow of the cosmic
process as a whole. Again, in the falling of dew, in the
gatherings of mists, and in the welling-up of fountains, the solid
materials of the world are apparently passing into a liquid state.

Thales was not the first to note these things. They had been
subtly modifying the thoughts of men for untold generations.
But he was the first whom we know to have gathered together
into a definite theory the vague intuitions which had been so
long unconsciously operative. He singled out this mobile
element and saw in it the substance of the flux of the world as a

His theory of movement took a wide range. He did not separate
the thing moved from the moving force; nor did he draw any
distinction between the organic and inorganic--the mechanical
and the vital. He regarded all modes of motion as essentially
spontaneous and self-determined. Moreover (as Aristotle tells
us) he identified this inherent principle of change with what is
divine in nature and in the soul. That is to say, the Real, for
Thales, is living impulse and continuous process. It is
experienced in man's conscious activities, and constitutes the
principle of unity in every mode and form of existence.

It is on the organic side of this speculation that Aristotle,
probably biased by his biological studies, chiefly dwells. Is it
possible to trace the grounds of which Thales based his wider
induction? Aristotle helps us. He supposes his predecessor to
have noted that water and life seem to be inseparable, and that
moisture is necessary to the germination and development of all
known organisms. It was natural to conclude that the principle
of life is in the water--the conclusion of the reason also
harmonising with the intuition stimulated by movement. Nor
was the inference altogether unwarranted. Put into historical
perspective, it still retains its force and value. The latest
biological authorities tell us that all branches of the zoological
family tree were formed on the moist shores of large water
basins, and that there is no form of life, not only terrestrial, but
even of the deep seas which has not passed through a littoral
phase. In other words, it is still allowable to hold that the
"moist," as Thales generally called his primal element, contains
one of the secrets of life. So close is the earliest to the latest
pronouncement on the origin of life on the globe!

Reviewing this brief exposition of the leading doctrine of an
ancient speculation, what bearing has it on the principles of
Nature Mysticism as laid down in preceding chapters? Certain
fairly obvious ones. Thales was guided by impressions received
from the qualities, behaviour, and functions of water; and they
led him to attribute a plastic life to matter. It would be
modernising him too severely to style him a hylozoist. But his
ascription of a soul to the magnet and to amber carries him far
on the way to that metaphysical world-view. Deeply suggestive
also is the saying which, if not rightly attributed to him, is at
least characteristic of his school--"All things are full of the
gods." We may therefore infer that the physical properties of
water are such as to suggest the ideas which have culminated in
modern animism. That is to say, water is capable of producing
intellectual and spiritual, as well as what are termed physical
effects. The deeper view of intuition is justified. And Thales, by
virtue of the whole trend and outcome of his speculations, may
claim an honoured place in the ranks of the nature-mystics.



We have found that the constant movement and change
manifested in the circulation of the waters of the globe
impressed the mind of Thales and largely determined the course
of his speculation. When his great successor, Heracleitus,
passed from water to fire, in his search for the _Welt-stoff_, he
by no means became insensible to the mystic appeal of running
water. "All things are flowing." Such was the ancient expression
of the universal flux; and it is plainly based on the analogy of a
stream. If Heracleitus was not its author, at any rate it became
his favourite simile. "We cannot step" (he said) "into the same
river twice, for fresh and ever fresh waters are constantly
pouring into it." And yet, in a sense, though the waters change,
the river remains. Hence the statement assumed a form more
paradoxical and mystical--"We step into the same river, and we
do not step into it; we are, and we are not."

Moving water, then, has the power of stimulating emotion and
prompting intuition; and this power is manifested in exceptional
degree when the source from which the water issues, and the
goal to which it flows, are unknown. These conditions are best
satisfied in the case of streams that flow in volume through
subterranean caverns. The darkness contributes its element of
undefined dread, and the hollow rumblings make the darkness
to be felt. What more calculated to fill the mind of the child of
nature with a sense of life and will behind the phenomena? The
weird reverberations are interpreted by him as significant
utterances of mighty, unseen powers, and the caves and chasms
are invested with the awe due to entrances into the gloomy
regions where reign the monarchs of the dead.

True, it may be said, for the child of nature. But are such
experiences possible for the modern mind? Yes, if we can
pierce through the varied disguises which the intuitional
material assumes as times and manners change. Coleridge, for
instance, is thrown into a deep sleep by an anodyne. His
imagination takes wings to itself; images rise up before him,
and, without conscious effort, find verbal equivalents. The
enduring substance of the vision is embodied in the fragment,
"Kubla Khan," the glamour of which depends chiefly on the
mystical appeal of subterranean waters. We are transported to

    "Alph, the sacred river, ran
    Through caverns measureless to man,
    Down to a sunless sea."

These three lines make a deeper impression than any others in
the poem, and form its main theme.

Nor is the feeling of the supernatural unrecognised. Spirits are
near with prophetic promptings. From a deep chasm the sacred
river throws up a mighty fountain, and for a short space
wanders through wood and dale, only to plunge again into its
measureless caverns, and sink in tumult to a lifeless ocean:

    "And mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
    Ancestral voices prophesying war."

Thus when Coleridge's imagination was set free, the mode of
feeling declared itself which had persisted down the ages to the
present. The primitive experience is there in its essentials,
enriched by the aesthetic and intellectual gains of the
intervening centuries. Doubtless there is a living idea, or rather
a group of living ideas, behind the phenomena of subterranean

Wordsworth has described a more personal experience which
chimes in with all that has been said.

            "Through a rift
    Not distant from the shore on which we stood,
    A fixed, abysmal, gloomy, breathing place--
    Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams
    Innumerable, roaring with one voice!
    Heard over earth and sea, and, in that hour,
    For so it seemed, felt by the starry heavens."

If the modern poet could be thus affected, how much more the
primitive man who looked down on water falling into chasms,
or rushing through their depths. It was natural that such
experiences should find expression in his systems of
mythology. The general form they assume is that of springs and
rivers in the underworld, the best known of which appear in the
Graeco-Roman conceptions of Hades. Homer makes Circe
direct Odysseus thus. He is to beach his ship by deep-eddying
Oceanus, in the gloomy Cimmerian land. "But go thyself
to the dank house of Hades. Thereby into Acheron flow
Pyriphlegethon and Cocytus, a branch of the water of the Styx,
and there is a rock and the meeting of the two roaring waters."

Such were the materials which, with many additions and
modifications, developed into the Hades of Virgil's sixth
AEneid, with its lakes, and swamps and dismal streams. The
subterranean waters figured also in the Greek mysteries, and are
elaborated with much detail in Plato's great Phaedo Myth--in all
these cases with increasing fullness of mystical meaning. In the
popular mind they were incrusted with layers of incongruous
notions and crude superstitions. But, as Plato, for one, so clearly
saw, there is always at their core a group of intuitions which
have their bearing on the deepest problems of human life, and
are capable of moulding spiritual concepts.

Still more obviously suffused with mystic meaning and
influence are the Teutonic myths concerning the waters of the
underworld. The central notion is that of Yggdrasil, the tree of
the universe--the tree of time and life. Its boughs stretched up
into heaven; its topmost branch overshadowed Walhalla, the
hall of the heroes. Its three roots reach down into the
dark regions beneath the earth; they pierce through three
subterranean fountains, and hold together the universal structure
in their mighty clasp. These three roots stretch in a line from
north to south. The northernmost overarches the Hvergelmer
fountain with its ice-cold waters. The middle one overarches
Mimur's well with its stores of creative force. The southernmost
overarches Urd's well with its warmer flow. They are gnawed
down below by the dragon Nidhoegg and innumerable worms;
but water from the fountain of Urd keeps the world-ash ever

Hvergelmer is the mother fountain of all the rivers of the world--
below, on the surface of the earth, and in the heaven above.
From this vast reservoir issue all the waters, and thither they
return. On their outward journey they are sucked up and lifted
aloft by the northern root of the world tree, and there blend into
the sap which supplies the tree with its imperishable strength
and life. Rising through the trunk, they spread out into the
branches and evaporate from its crown. In the upper region,
thus attained, is a huge reservoir, the thunder-cloud, which
receives the liquid and pours it forth again in two diverse
streams. The one is the stream of fire-mist, the lightning, which
with its "terror-gleam" flows as a barrier round Asgard, the
home of the gods; the other falls in fructifying shower upon the
earth, to return to its original source in the underworld. The
famous maelstrom is the storm-centre, so to speak, of the
down-tending flood. The fountain Hvergelmer may therefore be
regarded as embodying impressions made on the Teuton mind
by the physical forces of the universe in the grand activities of
their eternal circulation. But their source was hidden.

The southernmost well has the warmer water of the sunny
climes--the fountain of Urd. The Norns, the three sisters who
made known the decrees of fate, come out of the unknown
distance, enveloped in a dark veil, to the world tree, and
sprinkle it daily with water from this fountain, that its foliage
may be ever green and vigorous. Urd is the eldest of the three,
and gazes thoughtfully into the past; Werdandi gazes at the
present; and Skuld gazes into the future. For out of the past and
present is the future born. The fountain of Urd may be regarded
as the embodiment of impressions of a spiritual force which
upholds and renews the universe.

Mimur, the king of the lower world, is the warder of the central
fountain, and round its waters are ranged his golden halls. The
fountain itself is seven times overlaid with gold, and above it
the holy tree spreads its sheltering branches. It is the source of
the precious liquid, the mead, which belongs to Mimur alone,
and rises from an unknown depth to water the central root. In its
purity, it gives the gods their wisdom and power. But the mead
which rises in the sap is not entirely pure; it is mixed with the
liquids from the other fountains. Thus earth is not like heaven.
Nevertheless, though thus diluted, it is a fructifying blessing to
whomsoever may obtain it. Around it grow delightful beds of
reeds and bulrushes; and bordering it are the Glittering Fields,
in which grow flowers that never fade and harvests that are
never reaped; in which grow also the seeds of poetry. In short,
Mimur's well is the source of inspiration and creative power.

These Teutonic notions of the waters under the earth have been
dwelt upon somewhat fully, partly because they are not so well
known as the classical myths--partly because they present such
a decided contrast to the classical myths--but mainly because of
their wealth of mystic suggestiveness. Let it not be thought that
they form a group of elaborate symbols--were that the case their
interest for the natural mystic would be vastly decreased. They
are almost wholly the spontaneous product of the mythopoeic
faculty; they were genuinely believed as presentations of
realities. They are primitive intuitions embodied to form a
primitive philosophy of life. They glow with mystic insight.
Under the forms of subterranean fountains that well forth life,
physical, aesthetic, spiritual, is mirrored the life of the universe,
which wells from unknown depths, and returns to the deeps
from which it emanated. And inasmuch as these ideas were
largely suggested by the circulation of the waters of the globe, the
Teutonic child of nature joins hands with the nature-philosopher
Thales. The Reality is ultimately the same for both; the
substance of the universe is living movement.

Yet another type of the mystic influence of subterranean
watercourses will serve to illustrate the deepening processes to
which all concrete forms, derived from intuitions, must be
subjected. Near to Banias in Northern Palestine, at the base of
an extensive cup-shaped mound, afar from human habitations,
is one of the two chief sources of the Jordan. The rushing waters
pour out of the ground in sufficient volume to form at once a
river. The roar and tumult are strikingly impressive. Peters, on
whose description of the place I have largely drawn, presumes
that this was the site of an ancient temple of Dan. The worship
at this temple was of the primitive sort, "such as was befitting
the worship of the God who exhibited himself in such nature
forces." We are therefore carried back to the mythological
stage, for which the gushing forth, in volume, of subterranean
waters was a manifestation of the life in, or behind, the natural
phenomenon, and roused a peculiar kind of emotion.

We are carried on to a much more advanced stage when we
come to the feelings represented in the 42nd Psalm. Peters
argues that this Psalm, which so vividly describes the roaring of
the waters was, "in its original form, a liturgical hymn sung at
the great autumnal festival by worshippers at this shrine, where
served, according to tradition, the descendants of Moses." On
this supposition how pregnant with historical import become the
well-known words: "One deep calleth another because of the
noise of the water-pipes; all thy waves and billows are gone
over me." It is no mere analogy or symbol that is here employed
(though such elements may be mingled in the complex whole)
but an intuition yearning to express itself that life's burden
would be lightened if the secret of the gushing waters could be

And it is thus that we arrive at the fundamental intuition
common to the various modes of experience just reviewed. The
subterranean waters spring from an unknown source, or fall into
an unknown abyss. In both cases there is a sense of having
reached the limits of the knowable, combined with a sense of
inexhaustible power. The beyond is vague and insubstantial, but
it is instinct with life and purpose. Man's spirit may shrink
before the unknown--but he fills the empty regions with forms
and objects which rob them of much of their strangeness and
aloofness, and bring them within the range of his hopes and
fears. There, as here (he feels), there must be interpenetration
of spirit by spirit.



Milton, in his noble "Ode on the Nativity," sings that, with the
advent of the Saviour,

    "From haunted spring and dale,
    Edged with poplars pale,
        The parting genius is with sighing sent."

Is this a statement of fact? Largely so, if the reference is to the
river gods, the Naiads, and water sprites, of classical
mythology. But not true if the vaguer belief in spirits who
preside over mossy wells and bubbling springs be taken into
account, or if the faith in the healing or other virtues of the
waters that issue from them be included in the underlying idea.
No, not even in the most Christian countries of to-day is such
faith extinct. One has but to remember the famous well at
Auray, or the sacred fountain in the crypt of the church at St.
Melars, to which whole crowds of pilgrims still resort, to realise
how far this is from being the case. Scotland herself, for all her
centuries of Puritanism, has not wiped her slate quite clean; still
less the countries like Ireland and Brittany, which are so
retentive of the past. Nay, the present age is not content with its
liberal supply of sacred springs, it must be adding new ones of
its own! Let Lourdes be witness. And who shall say how many
more are yet to come?

Very remarkable, both as illustrating Milton's Ode, and also the
persistency of this particular form of superstition, is the story of
the only real spring close to Jerusalem--Enrogel. It is identified
by high authorities with the Dragon's Well, mentioned in a
romantic passage of the book of the patriot, Nehemiah.
Assuming the validity of this identification, we have a glimpse
of times far earlier than the Hebrew occupation of the land.
Primitive peoples often associated serpents with springs and
wells, as incarnations of the spirit of the waters. A link is thus
supplied which carries back the history to the animistic and
mythological periods, in this case, prehistoric.

Retracing our course, we arrive at the time of the Hebrew
occupation of the country. A purer form of religion has rejected
most of the mythological material. But the old name of the
spring remains, and, what is still more pertinent, the old belief
in its healing power. We have evidence of this belief in St.
John's Gospel, which contains the peculiar story of the healing
at the pool of Bethesda, most probably connected with this same
spring. The popular view that at times an angel came to trouble
the water is perhaps an attempted explanation of its intermittent

Now should have come the time, according to Milton, for the
departure of the sighing genius--the dying out of the
superstition. But those who anticipate such a _denouement_
will be grievously disappointed. For the Jews still bathe in its
waters, at the times of overflow, for cure of various maladies.
And on the Christian side of the history, it has gained the name
of the Virgin's Pool!

Similar stories might be found in any part of the globe where
tradition is sufficiently continuous to preserve them, testifying
to the almost astounding persistency of belief in the power of
springing water. No doubt simple faith healing has played its
part--but that part is very subsidiary; the strongest influence has
been that exercised by the movement of the water itself,
suggesting as it does the idea of spontaneous life. Not less
surprising is the hold such springs retain upon the imagination
and affections. Pathetic proof of this meets the traveller at every
turn on the west coast of Ireland. As he tramps the byways and
unfrequented paths of County Clare, his eye is caught from time
to time by an artless array of shelves on the sloping banks of
some meadow spring. On the shelves are scanty votive offerings,
piteous to see. Piteous, not on the score of the superstition
which prompts them--that is a matter to be dealt with
in a spirit of broad sympathy, on its historic and social
merits--but because of the dire poverty they reveal. Even its of
broken crockery are held worthy of a place at these little
shrines; so bereft are the peasantry of the simplest
accompaniments of civilised life.

How thoroughly natural is the growth of such sentiments and
beliefs! Jefferies felt the charm. "There was a secluded spring"
(he writes) "to which I sometimes went to drink the pure water,
lifting it in the hollow of my hand. Drinking the lucid water,
clear as light itself in solution, I absorbed the beauty and the
purity of it. I drank the thought of the element; I desired
soul-nature pure and limpid."

Nor has the charm ceased to be potent for the new man in the
new world. Walt Whitman knew it. Here is a delightful
paragraph from his notes of "Specimen Days": "So, still
sauntering on, to the spring under the willows--musical and soft
as clinking glasses--pouring a sizeable stream, thick as my neck,
pure and clear, out from its vent where the bank arches over like
a great brown shaggy eyebrow or mouth roof--gurgling,
gurgling ceaselessly--meaning, saying something of course (if
one could only translate it)--always gurgling there, the whole
year through--never going out--oceans of mint, blackberries in
summer--choice of light and shade--just the place for my July
sun-baths and water-baths too--but mainly the inimitable soft
sound-gurgles of it, as I sit there hot afternoons. How they and
all grow into me, day after day--everything in keeping--the
wild, just palpable, perfume, and the dapple of leaf-shadows,
and all the natural-medicinal, elemental-moral influences of the

If these two passages be taken together, there will be few
elements of mystic influence left unnoted. And how deeply
significant the fact that each author instinctively and
spontaneously associates with the limpid flow of the water the
ideas of life and health! Were the old mythologists so very far
from the truth? Is it so very hard to understand why wells and
springs have had their thousands of years of trust and affection?
Was it mere caprice that led our Teutonic fathers to place under
the roots of the world-tree the three wells of force and life and

A fine example of a more definitely mystic use of the ideas
prompted by the sight of springing water, is found in Dante's
"Earthly Paradise"--an example the more interesting because of
its retention of what may be called the "nature-elements" in the

    "The water, thou behold'st, springs not from vein,
    Restored by vapour, that the cold converts;
    As stream that intermittently repairs
    And spends his pulse of life; but issues forth
    From fountain, solid, undecaying, sure:
    And, by the will omnific, full supply
    Feeds whatsoe'er on either side it pours;
    On this, devolved with power to take away
    Remembrance of offence; on that, to bring
    Remembrance back of every good deed done.
    From whence its name of Lethe on this part;
    On the other, Eunoe: both of which must first
    Be tasted, ere it work; the last exceeding
    All flavours else."

This passage, say the authorities, is linked on to the old
Proserpine mystery, and is parallel to the Teutonic conceptions
described in the last chapter. Of quite exceptional character, yet
best treated in the present connection, are the "wells" of eastern
lands. Where the sources of springing water are rare and far
distant from one another, the supply of water has to be
supplemented by that from artificial pits, sunk with hard toil,
often into the solid rock, and valued accordingly. Such "wells,"
in the stricter sense, are too directly associated with human
labour in historic times, to allow much mythical material to
accumulate around them. Still, from the simple fact of their
dispensing water in arid and thirsty lands, they possess not
unfrequently a rich store of family and tribal legends. And
further, by reason of their very freedom from the cruder
superstitions, the intuitions they prompted were from the first
transparent and spiritual. Under such conditions the water is
literally "life." And as the conception of life deepened, so did
intuition become more delicate.

We have the early freshness of the feeling stimulated in an
ancient strain, delightful in its naive spontaneity.

    "Then sang Israel this song:
        Spring up, O well, sing ye unto it:
    The well which the princes digged,
    Which the nobles of the people delved,
        With the sceptre and with their staves."

The deepening of the feeling came rapidly, and took exquisite
form in the prophet's assurance that his people should "draw
water out of the wells of salvation." But here mysticism was
beginning to blend with symbolism, and the later developments
of the idea pass over almost wholly into the sphere of reflective

So far as the nature-mystic is concerned, he emphasises the
continuity of the feeling, from the earliest ages to the present,
that in the phenomena of water gushing from a source we have
a manifestation of self-activity, as immanent Idea and concrete
will. And convinced of the validity of his contention, he is not
surprised, as some may be, at the influence which wells and
springs have wielded, and still do wield, over the human soul.



There is a striking passage in Tylor's "Primitive Culture" which
will admirably serve as an introduction to this chapter and the
one which is to follow, on "Rivers and Waterfalls." "In those
moments of the civilised man's life when he casts off hard dull
science, and returns to childhood's fancy, the world-old book of
nature is open to him anew. Then the well-worn thoughts come
back fresh to him, of the stream's life that is so like his own;
once more he can see the rill leap down the hill-side like a child,
to wander playing among the flowers; or can follow it as, grown
to a river, it rushes through a mountain gorge, henceforth in
sluggish strength to carry heavy burdens across the plain. In all
that the water does, the poet's fancy can discern its personality
of life. It gives fish to the fisher, and crops to the husbandman;
it swells in fury and lays waste the land; it grips the bather with
chill and cramp, and holds with inexorable grasp its drowning
victim. . . . What ethnography has to teach of that great element
of the religion of mankind, the worship of well and lake, brook
and river, is simply this--that what is poetry to us was
philosophy to early man; that to his mind water acted not by
laws of force, but by life and will; that the water-spirits of
primeval mythology are as souls which cause the water's rush
and rest, its kindness and its cruelty; that lastly man finds, in the
beings with such power to work him weal or woe, deities with a
wider influence over his life, deities to be feared and loved, to
be prayed to and praised and propitiated with sacrificial gifts."

Tylor has here given a masterly resume of a large group of
facts, and has viewed them from a particular angle--not quite
that of the nature-mystic, though not so far removed as might
appear. He does not make it appear that there was any organic
connection between the phenomena and the mythology, nor
even between the phenomena and the feelings which the
modern man, in certain moods, feels stirring within him at their
prompting. These myths are simply "fancies"; the "feelings" are
simply those of "the poet." The wider view adopted by so many
philosophers and scientists (as was shown in the chapter on
animism) does not seem to have won his adherence--perchance
was not known to him. And yet in sentence after sentence he
hovers on the brink of genuine Nature Mysticism. His sympathy
with the leaping rill and the rushing river is deep and
spontaneous; he is evidently well pleased to open afresh "the
world-old book of nature," and to read it in the light of
"childhood's fancy." The nature-mystic avers that what he
deemed a recurrence of meaningless, if pleasant, "well-worn
thoughts" was really an approach to the heart of nature from
which an imperfect understanding of the place and function of
science had carried him away. Not that the old forms should be
perpetuated, but that the childlike insight should be cherished.

Water in movement in brooks and streams! Have we discovered
the secret of it when we tell of liquids in unstable equilibrium
which follow lines of least resistance? It is a valuable advance
to have gained such abstract terms and laws, so long as we
remember they _are_ abstractions. But it is a deadly thing to
rest in them. How infinitely wiser is Walt Whitman, in his
address to a brook he loved, than the man who coldly analyses,
with learned formulae to help him, and sees and feels nothing
beyond. "Babble on, O brook" (Walt Whitman cries), "with that
utterance of thine! . . . Spin and wind thy way--I with thee a
little while at any rate. As I haunt thee so often, season by
season, thou knowest, reckest not me (yet why be so certain--
who can tell?)--but I will learn from thee, and dwell on thee--
receive, copy, print, from thee."

Is this to indulge in vague anthropomorphic fancies--though not
of the cruder sort, still of subjective value only? The
persistence, the vividness, and the frequency of such
"imaginings" prove that the subjective explanation does not tell
the whole tale. How natural, in the simplest sense of the word,
is Coleridge:

    "A noise like of a hidden brook
    In the leafy month of June,
    That to the sleeping woods all night
    Singeth a quiet tune."

How earnest is Wordsworth as he opens out glimpses of
unknown modes of being in his address to the Brook:

    "If wish were mine some type of thee to view
    Thee, and not thee thyself, I would not do
    Like Grecian artists, give the human cheeks
    Channels for tears; no Naiad shouldst thou be,--
    Have neither limbs, feet, feathers, joints, nor hairs;
    It seems the Eternal Soul is clothed in thee
    With purer robes than those of flesh and blood,
    And hath bestowed on thee a safer good;
    Unwearied joy, and life without its care."

Again, what natural feeling declares itself in the delightful
Spanish poem translated by Longfellow:

    "Laugh of the mountain! lyre of bird and tree!
    Pomp of the meadow! mirror of the morn!
    The soul of April, unto whom are born
    The rose and jessamine, leaps wild in thee!"

How deep, once more, the note sounded by Brown in his lines
on "The Well":

    "I am a spring--
    Why square me with a kerb?
    . . .
    O cruel force,
    That gives me not a chance
    To fill my natural course;
    With mathematic rod
    Economising God;
    Calling me to pre-ordered circumstance
    Nor suffering me to dance
    Over the pleasant gravel,
    With music solacing my travel--
    With music, and the baby buds that toss
    In light, with roots and sippets of the moss!"

The longing for freedom to expand the dimly realised and
mystic elements in his soul-life was stirred within him by the
joyous bubbling of a spring. To kerb the artless, natural flow is
to "economise God"--so the limitations and restrictions of the
life that now is artificialise and deaden the divine within us.
There is more than metaphor in such a comparison; there is the
linkage of the immanent idea. His emotion culminates in the
concluding lines:

    "One faith remains--
    That through what ducts soe'er,
    What metamorphic strains,
    What chymic filt'rings, I shall pass
    To where, O God,
    Thou lov'st to mass
    Thy rains upon the crags, and dim the sphere.
    So, when night's heart with keenest silence thrills,
    Take me, and weep me on the desolate hills."

There are indeed but few with any feeling for nature who have
not been moved to special trains of thought, the outcome of
characteristic moods, by the babblings and wayward wanderings
of brooks and rivulets. The appeal, therefore, is to a
wide experience. Can we be satisfied to join with Tylor in his
sense of disillusionment? Or shall we strive to get yet nearer to
the heart of things? If we cling to the deeper view, to us, as to
the men of old, the running stream will sing of the soul in



A river is but a larger brook. And yet by virtue of its volume, it
manifests features which are peculiarly its own, and exerts
influences which have not alone affected individual moods and
imaginings, but often profoundly modified and moulded the
destinies of peoples and civilisations. The two outstanding
instances are the Nile and the Ganges.

The Nile has attracted to itself, from the dawn of history to the
present day, a peculiar share of wonder and renown. It is the
longest river of its continent--possibly of the world; and the
exploration of its sources is only just completed. It flows
through a limestone country over which, save for its beneficent
action, would drive the parched sands of the Libyan desert. Its
periodic inundations, with their rich deposits of alluvial soil,
repel the encroaching wastes, and solve the problem of the food
supply. Egypt has with good reason been called "the gift of the

This river therefore possesses in a marked degree all the mystic
influences of moving water, and emphasises them by physical
and historical features of exceptional import. What wonder that
it has had so direct a bearing on the spiritual development of the
people on its banks, and that it entered into the very texture of
their lives! It was, for the Egyptian, pre-eminently the sacred
river--deemed to be one of the primitive essences--ranked with
those highest deities who were not visible objects of adoration.
As a form of God "he cannot (says an ancient hymnist) be
figured in stone; he is not to be seen in the sculptured images
upon which men place the united crowns of the North and the
South, furnished with uraei." The honour thus conferred was but
commensurate with the blessings he brought. For in what would
have been a valley of death he was the sole source and sustainer
of life. A further quotation from the beautiful hymn just
mentioned will indicate the affection and mystic emotion he
inspired. "Homage to thee, O Hapi! (i.e. the Nile). Thou comest
forth in this land, and dost come in peace to make Egypt to live,
O thou hidden one, thou guide of the darkness whensoever it is
thy pleasure to be its guide. Thou waterest the fields which Ra
hath created, thou makest all animals to live, thou makest the
land to drink without ceasing; thou descendest the path of
heaven, thou art the friend of meat and drink, thou art the giver
of the grain, and thou makest every place of work to flourish, O
Ptah! . . . If thou wert to be overcome in heaven the gods would
fall down headlong, and mankind would perish."

In this passage the mystic observes how the natural power of
running water to suggest spontaneous movement, and therefore
life, is accentuated and denned by the actual results of the river's
beneficent overflow. And a further step is taken when Hapi is
addressed by the names of Ptah (as above) and Khnemu; for he
is not thus confused with the gods so named, but being the great
life-supplier for the land, he is, like them, regarded as a creative
power. The development of the ideas suggested is thus
essentially parallel to that described in the chapter on the
Teutonic myths of the three subterranean wells and the

But can any distinctive features of the Egyptian religion be
traced to the influences exerted by the phenomena of the Nile?
Most decidedly so--in two directions more especially. That
religion is one of contrasts; it represents the world as a scene of
titanic conflict. The realm of Osiris is opposed to that of
Typhon--creation to destruction. And the master influence in
shaping the form in which these contrasts were conceived was
undoubtedly the Nile. On one side barren rocks and parched
sands, and on the other the fertilising powers of the sacred
stream. All around, vast solitudes, and along the river the hum
of teeming communities and the rich fullness of prosperous
civilisations. The world was visibly, for the Egyptian, a fierce
recurring battle between life and death.

And springing out of this appears the second great influence to
be attributed to the famous river. The Egyptian grasped firmly
and developed fully the doctrine of immortality. Doubtless
many factors contributed to the peculiar form which his belief
assumed, but none would be of more importance than the ever
renewed gift of life which the Nile brought from an unknown
and an unseen world. Hence also the connection between the
Nile-god and Osiris, the god of the resurrection. So deeply were
the world-views and spiritual experiences of the Egyptians
influenced by the mystic's powers of the Nile--by the immanent
ideas therein made concrete. The Egyptians, in their turn,
influenced the Hebrews, the Greeks, and the Romans; and these,
again, have influenced the race. Who shall estimate the effect
on the human mind of the physical phenomena of this single

When we turn to the story of the Ganges, a further mystical
concept comes into view--that of purification. It is manifestly
suggested by the cleansing qualities of water, and has exercised
an important function in the development of certain moral ideas
and ideals. Bathing in running water to cleanse the stains of the
body led on to, and combined with, the concept of cleansing the
stains of the soul. But even thus the dominant suggestion of life
declares itself, as is specially obvious in the case of Christian
baptism, where the washing with water symbolises not only the
cleansing of the soul, but the new birth, the higher life of the
spirit. It is by keeping in mind these blended concepts that we
shall best understand the story of the Ganges.

All the larger rivers of India are looked upon as abodes and
vehicles of the divine essence, and therefore as possessed of
power to cleanse from moral guilt. Their banks, from source to
sea, are holy ground, and pilgrims plod their way along them to
win merit--a merit that is measured by the years of travel and
the sanctity of the stream. Of all the great rivers in this ancient
land, the Ganges is the noblest. Mother Ganga, stands supreme.
No water such as hers for washing away the stains of the most
heinous crimes. She has bands of priests who call themselves
her "Sons," and who conduct pilgrims down the flights of steps
that line her banks, aid them in their ablutions, and declare them
clean. To die and to be buried near the stream is in itself
sufficient to win an entrance to the realms of bliss. "Those who,
even at a distance of a hundred leagues, cry Ganga, Ganga,
atone for the sins committed during three previous lives." In
short, the hold the river has obtained upon the affections and
imaginations of the Hindus is marvellously firm and lasting.

Of course a river so renowned has its wreath of myths and
legends, characterised, in this instance, by the prodigality of the
Eastern mind. It is not necessary to linger over these, save in so
far as to note that they ascribe a divine origin to the sacred
stream; the sense of power and movement issuing from the
world of the unseen is no less strong than that aroused by the
Nile; though it finds strangely different modes of expression, its
essential character is the same. Interesting and typical is the
Hindu belief that the spot where flow together the waters of the
Ganges, the Jumna and the Sarasvati is one of the most
hallowed in a land of holy places. "These three sacred rivers
form a kind of Tri-murti, or triad, often personified as
goddesses, and called 'Mothers.'" With such facts in view, it
would be hard to exaggerate the influence of rivers on the
development of the Hindu's speculation and practice, and more
especially of his mysticism.

Such intuitions and beliefs find their full flower in the
conception of the river of life--the stream, pure as crystal, that,
with exulting movement onward, brings to men the thrill of
hope and the inspiration of progress to a world beyond. It pulses
and swings in the glorious sunshine--it reflects the blue of
heaven--it sweeps superbly with unsullied current past every
obstacle, and bursts through every barrier:

            at ille
    Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis aevum.

Yes, the Nile, the Ganges, the Rhine, the Thames, and a
thousand other rivers of renown have had, and still have, their
part to play in the cosmic drama and in the development of
man's spiritual nature. Generation after generation has found
them to be capable of stirring peculiar emotions, and of
stimulating profound thoughts on the mystery of life. And all
these powers are concentrated and sublimated in this glorious
vision of "the river of water of life that flows from the throne
of God."



The world of fact, no less than the world of abstract thought, is
full of contradictions and unsolved antinomies. Here is one such
contradiction or antinomy. Moving water, it has been shown, is
suggestive of life. But over against it we find a suggestion of
death. Indeed there has been a widely diffused belief in a river
of death--a striking foil to the inspiring mysticism of the river of
life. The old-world mythology taught, in varying forms, but
with underlying unity of concept, that there is a river, or gulf,
which must be crossed by the departing soul on its way to the
land of the departed. Evidently the extension of the original
thought to cover its seeming opposite has a basis in the nature
of things. Its most elaborate presentment is in the ancient myths
of the nether regions and of the seven streams that watered
them--from Styx that with nine-fold weary wanderings bounded
Tartarus, to where

    "Far off from these, a slow and silent stream,
    Lethe the river of oblivion runs."

Nor has Christianity disdained to adapt the idea. Bunyan, for
example, brings his two pilgrims within sight of the heavenly
City. "Now I saw further that between them and the gate was a
river; but there was no bridge, and the river was very deep. At
the sight therefore of this river, the pilgrims were much stunned;
but the men that went with them said, you must go through or
you cannot come at the gate."

What suggestive power has the river to induce this more sombre
train of reflection? Surely that embodied in the old proverb--
Follow the river and you will come to the sea. Clough, in his
little poem, "The Stream of Life," concludes with a note of
sadness, almost of despair:

    "O end to which all currents tend,
        Inevitable sea,
    To which we flow, what do we know,
        What shall we guess of thee?

    A roar we hear upon thy shore,
        As we our course fulfil;
    Scarce we divine a sun will shine
        And be above us still."

The rushing rapid and the plunging waterfall have an influence
all their own in rousing intuitions of more than human life and
power. The dazzling and dashing rainbows of spray appeal to
the sense of sight--the internal rhythmic sound from the lighter
tones which are flung around like notes from a Stroem Karl's
magic harp, or the alluring song of a Lorelei, to the thunder of a
Niagara, nature's diapason sounding the lowest note that mortal
ears can catch, appeal to the sense of hearing--and underlying
all is a vague sense of irresistible power. How touching, how
profoundly true, the story in "Eckehard" of the little lad and his
sister who wandered off until they came to the Rheinfal. There,
gazing at the full sweep of that magnificent fall the little fellow
throws into the swirling emerald of the waters at his feet a
golden goblet, as an offering to the God whom he felt to be so
near. Unconsciously he was a natural mystic. Movement, sound,
and colour combined to produce in him, what it should produce
in all, a sense of immanent Reality, self-moving, self-sustained.
And yet even a waterfall may suggest far other thoughts--a
downward course from the freshness of the uplands of youth to
the broadening stream of manhood declining towards old age
and the final plunge. The fall itself would thus convey vague
feelings of loss of power and vigour--a loss that gathers speed
as it approaches the end. So in Campbell's well-known "River
of Life":

    "When joys have lost their bloom and breath
        And life itself is vapid,
    Why, as we reach the Falls of Death,
        Feel we its course more rapid? "

If so sad a train of reflections can be stimulated by the rapids
and the falls of rivers, how much more so by their ending in the
ocean! Old age and death can hardly fail to assert themselves in
the minds of those who sail down some noble river and

    "As the banks fade dimmer away,
    As the stars come out, and the night wind
        Brings up the stream
    Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea."

Granting that the river's merging in the sea suggests the close
of life as we know it here, must we also grant that the
natural-mystic must give way to a partial, if not an absolute,
tendency to pessimism? That a natural-mystic should be a pessimist
would seem to be an anomaly. For he holds that he can hold
living communion with the Real; and such communion would
carry with it, surely, a strong hope, if not a conviction, that
change in material form cannot affect the inner being, call it the
spiritual essence, of which that form is a particular
manifestation. Deny that nature has a soul and optimism
becomes a ghastly mockery. Believe that nature and man are
linked together as kindred forms of spiritual existence, and then,
though there will not indeed be formal proof of immortality,
there will be intuitive trust in the future. What the implications
of such a trust may be is for the various philosophies and
theologies to determine; but taken at its lowest value, it would
secure a man from pessimism.

In the light of these general observations, let us consider the
particular case now presented. The river is merged in the sea--it
is absorbed--its existence as a river is terminated. But the
"substance" of its being remains; diffused in a vaster whole, but
not lost. What is this vaster whole? If we regard it as an
Absolute, there may perchance be ground for pessimism. If,
with certain scientists, we stop short at the conservation of
energy, there is nothing ahead but a blank. But if we hold to the
conservation of values, as at least a parallel to this conservation
of energy, we are impelled to hold also to the conservation of all
that is ultimate in individualities. For values imply modes of
being which can allow of the experience of values as such. And
the Nature-Mystic's direct communion with his environment is
seen to be one mode by which the individual centre of life
learns to live increasingly in the life of the Whole--the total
Reality. There is, then, no absorption where values are
conserved, but an ever richer content of experience, an ever
deepening insight into its significance, and an ever keener
enjoyment of the material it affords.

As a specific case of an optimistic creed based on an intuition of
the essential kinship of all things, it is profitable to study the
poetry of a Sufi mystic of the thirteenth century. How delicate
the thought enshrined in the following lines:

    "When man passed from the plant to the animal state,
    He had no remembrance of his state as a plant,
    Except the inclination he felt for the world of plants,
    Especially at the time of spring and sweet flowers."

What is this but an anticipation of Wordsworth's "Daffodils," or
even of his "Ode on Immortality"?

The concepts and phraseology of the transmigration theory are
merely temporary forms in which a deep thought clothes itself:
at any rate, they are not necessary adjuncts of the thought; nor
do they preclude sympathy with the following condensed
statement of this same mystic's world-philosophy:

    "I died from the mineral and became a plant;
    I died from the plant and reappeared as an animal;
    I died from the animal and became a man.
    Wherefore then should I fear? When did I grow less by
    Next time I shall die from the man
    That I may grow the wings of angels.
    From the angel, too, I must advance.
    All things shall perish save His face."

With an insight like unto this, a mystic need not fear because
the river flows into the sea! In spite of appearances, the idea of
life can still reign supreme. The river of death embodies a true
insight--but of a transition only, not of an abiding state. We die
to live more fully.

This sense of continuity in the flow of the stream of life, and of
the abidingness of its existence through all vicissitudes has been
strikingly expressed by Jefferies. He is sitting on the
grass-grown tumulus where some old warrior was buried two
thousand years ago, and his thought slips back over the interval.
"Two thousand years being a second to the soul could not cause
its extinction. . . . Resting by the tumulus, the spirit of the man
who had been interred there was to me really alive, and very
close. This was quite natural and simple as the grass waving in
the wind, the bees humming, and the lark's songs. Only by the
strongest effort of the mind could I understand the idea of
extinction; that was supernatural, requiring a miracle; the
immortality of the soul natural, like the earth. Listening to the
sighing of the grass I felt immortality as I felt the beauty of the
summer morning, and I thought beyond immortality, of other
conditions, more beautiful than existence, higher than

Let Morris sum up the thoughts and emotions aroused by the
mystical influences of water flowing onward to join the ocean.

    "Flow on, O mystical river, flow on through desert and city;
    Broken or smooth flow onward into the Infinite sea.
    Who knows what urges thee on?
    . . .
    Surely we know not at all, but the cycle of Being is eternal,
    Life is eternal as death, tears are eternal as joy.
    As the stream flowed it will flow; though 'tis sweet, yet the
        sea will be bitter;
    Foul it with filth, yet the Deltas grow green and the ocean is
    Always the sun and the winds will strike its broad surface
        and gather
    Some purer drops from its depths to float in the clouds of the
    Soon these shall fall once again, and replenish the
	full-flowing river.
    Roll round then, O mystical circle! flow onward, ineffable



The Ocean! What is its mystic significance? A question as
fraught with living issues as its physical object is spacious and
profound. Infinitely varied and yet unchanging; gentle and yet
terrible; radiant and yet awful;

    "Calm or convulsed, in breeze, or gale, or storm,
    Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
    Dark heaving"--

there is not a mood with which the ocean cannot link itself, nor
a problem to which it cannot hint, albeit darkly, a solution. To
attempt a description of its external phenomena were a hardy
task--much more to grapple with its protean influences on the
souls of men.

Let the approach be by way of mythology. It was shown how
that Thales was partly guided to his choice of Water as the
_Welt-stoff_ by its place and function in the ancient
cosmologies. Numerous and widely diffused were the myths of
a primeval ocean out of which the structured universe arose.
The Babylonian tablet tells of the time before the times "when
above were not raised the heavens, and below on the earth a
plant had not grown up; the abyss also had not broken up its
boundary. The chaos, the sea, was the producing mother of
them all." A passage from the Rig Veda speaks likewise of the
time, or rather the no-time, which preceded all things. "Death
was not then, nor immortality; there was no distinction of day or
night. Only _Something_ breathed without breath, inwardly
turned towards itself. Other than it there was nothing." And how
did these ancient mystics best picture to themselves the
primeval, or timeless, _Something_?--"What was the veiling
cover of everything?"--they themselves ask. And they answer
with another question--"Was it the water's deep abyss?" They
think of it as "an ocean without light." "Then (say they) from
the nothingness enveloped in empty gloom, Desire (Love)
arose, which was the first germ of mind. This loving impulse
the Sages, seeking in their heart, recognised as the bond
between Being and Non-Being." How deep the plunge here into
the sphere of abstract thought! Yet so subtle and forceful had
been the mystic influence of the ocean on the primitive mind
that it declares itself as a working element in their abstrusest

Nor has this mystic influence as suggesting the mysteries of
origin ceased to be operative. Here is Tennyson, addressing his
new-born son:

    "Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep."

And again, when nearing the end of his own life, he strikes the
same old mystic chord:

    "When that which drew from out the boundless deep
    Turns again home."

Wordsworth, of course, felt the power of this ocean-born
intuition, and assures us that here and now:

    "Tho' inland far we be,
    Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
    Which brought us hither."

And of intense interest as modernising the ancient concept of
"_Something_ which breathed without breath," is his appeal:

    "Listen, the mighty Being is awake,
    And doth with his eternal motion make
    A sound like thunder--everlastingly."

It will not be possible to do more than draw attention to those
chief characteristics of the ocean which have given it so large a
place in the minds of men. And first would come the vastness of
the sea, which prompts vague intuitions of mystery and infinity.
The sight of its limitless expanse still has this power. "The sea
(says Holmes) belongs to eternity, and not to time, and of that it
sings for ever and ever." How natural, then, the trend of the
mythology just mentioned, and the belief in a primeval ocean--a
formless abyss--Tiamat--which, as Milton puts it in a splendid
line, is:

    "The womb of nature and perhaps her grave."

But added to the mystic influence of sheer limitlessness are the
manifestations of power and majesty, which compel the awe
and wonder of those who "go down to the sea in ships and do
their business in great waters." In the minds of early navigators,
the experience of the terrors of the sea begot a sense of
relationship to hostile powers. One of the oldest Aryan words
for sea, the German _Meer_, Old English _Mere_, means death
or destruction; and the destructive action of the ocean's
untutored elementary force found personifications in the
Teutonic Oegir (Terror), with his dreaded daughter, and the
sea-goddess, Ran, his wife, who raged in storms and overwhelmed
the ships. The eastern peoples, including the Hebrews, regarded
the sea as the abode of evil powers, as certain of the visions in
the Book of Daniel strikingly testify. Nor is this feeling of the
action of hostile powers yet extinct. Victor Hugo makes fine use
of it in his description of the storm in "The Toilers of the Sea."

Jefferies was always deeply affected by the vast-ness and
strength of the sea. "Let me launch forth" (he writes) "and sail
over the rim of the sea yonder, and when another rim rises over
that, and again onwards into an ever-widening ocean of idea and
life. For with all the strength of the wave, and its succeeding
wave, the depth and race of the tide, the clear definition of the
sky; with all the subtle power of the great sea, there rises the
equal desire. Give me life strong and full as the brimming
ocean; give me thoughts wide as its plain. . . . My soul rising to
the immensity utters its desire-prayer with all the strength of the

In many of its aspects, the ocean can stimulate and soften
moods of sadness. The peculiar potency of the play of the
waves is reserved for the next chapter. But the more general
influences of this character are many and of undoubted
significance. The vast loneliness of its watery, restless plains;
its unchangeableness; its seeming disregard for human destinies;
the secrets buried under its heaving waters--these and a
multitude of like phenomena link themselves on to man's sadder
reveries. Morris asks:

    "Peace, moaning sea; what tale have you to tell,
    What mystic tidings, all unknown before?"

His answer is in terms of longing for the unrealised:

    "The voice of yearning, deep but scarce expressed,
        For something which is not, but may be yet;
        Too full of sad continuance to forget,
    Too troubled with desires to be at rest,
    Too self-conflicting ever to be blest."

In strong contrast with this is the exhilarating, tonic power of
the sea. Coleridge, revisiting the seashore, cries:

    "God be with thee, gladsome Ocean!
    How gladly greet I thee once more."

Myers emphasises the fact that Swinburne, in his principal
autobiographical poem, "Thalassius, or Child of the Sea,"
reveals a nature for which the elemental play of the ocean is the
intensest stimulus. The author of that poem tells how once he
wandered off into indulgence of personal feelings, and how his
mother, the sea, recalled him from such wanderings to

        "charm him from his own soul's separate sense
    With infinite and invasive influence,
    That made strength sweet in him and sweetness strong,
    Being now no more a singer, but a song."

And akin to this exhilarating effect on a poet's sensibility is that
which it has exercised on the large scale in moulding the
characters and fortunes of seafaring nations. Longfellow had a
firm grip of this historical fact:

    "Wouldst thou (so the helmsman answered)
    Learn the secret of the sea?
    Only those who brave its dangers
    Comprehend its mystery."

Allan Cunningham's sea songs furnish the classical expression
of the spirit in its modern guise as embodied in the British
sailor--the defender of the isle that is "compassed by the
inviolate sea":

    "The sea! the sea! the open sea!
    The ever fresh, the ever free."

Byron may be criticised as too consciously "posing" in his
well-known apostrophe to the ocean; nevertheless it contains a
tang of the Viking spirit:

    "And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
    Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
    Borne like thy bubbles onward: from a boy
    I wantoned with thy breakers."

What is the core of this Viking buoyancy and exhilaration?
Surely a sense of freedom, inspired by a life on the ocean, and
fostered by the very hardships and dangers which that life

Thus cumulative is the evidence that the present, for all its
materialism, inherits the essence of the ancient mysticism; or
rather, it is open to the same impulses and intuitions, however
changed and changing the forms they may assume. On the one
hand, the infinite complexity of man's developing soul-life; on
the other, the limitless range of the moods and aspects of the
ocean: the two are spiritually linked by ultimate community of
nature: deep calls to deep: the response is living and eternal.



The most familiar appeal of the Ocean is that of the wave which
speeds over its surface or breaks upon its shores. Poets have
found here an inexhaustible theme. Painters have here expended
their utmost skill. Whether it is the tiny ripple that dies along
the curving sands, or the merry, rustling, crested surf that
hurries on to wanton in the rocky pools, or the storm billow that
rushes wildly against an iron-bound coast to spurt aloft its
sheets of spray or to hurl its threatening mass on the trembling
strand--in each and every form the wave is a moving miracle.
Through every change of contour and interplay of curves, its
lines are ever of inimitable grace. Its gradations of colour, its
translucent opalescence framed in gleaming greens and tender
greys, wreathed with the radiance of the foam, are of inimitable
charm. Its gamuts of sounds, the faint lisp of the wavelet on the
pebbly beach, the rhythmic rise and fall of the plashing or
plunging surf, the roar and scream of the breaker, and the boom
of the billow, are of inimitable range. What marvel is it that
even the commonplace of the sons of men yield themselves
gladly to a spell they cannot analyse, content to linger, to gaze,
and to ponder!

If the spell of the waves enthralls the ordinary mortal, how
much more those whose aesthetic and spiritual senses are keen
and disciplined? Coleridge, while listening to the tide, with eyes
closed, but with mind alert, finds his thoughts wandering back

        "that blind bard who on the Chian strand
    By those deep sounds possessed with inward light,
    Beheld the Iliad and the Odyssee
    Rise to the swelling of the voiceful sea."

Swinburne, listening to the same music, exclaims:

    "Yea, surely the sea like a harper
    Laid his hand on the shore like a lyre."

Sometimes the emphasis is on the sympathy with the striving
forces manifested in the ceaseless activity of the ocean as it

        "beats against the stern dumb shore
    The stormy passion of its mighty heart."

Sometimes the emphasis is on the subjective mood which that
activity arouses:

    "Break, break, break,
    On thy cold gray stones, O sea.
    And I would that my tongue could utter
    The thoughts that arise in me,"

Sometimes the two are indissolubly blended as in the song,
"Am Meer," so exquisitely set to music by Schubert--where the
rhythmic echoes of the heaving tide accompany the surging
emotions of a troubled heart.

The direct impression made by the objective phenomena of the
play of waves finds abundant expression in the whole range of
literature--not the least forcefully in Tennyson. How fine his
painting of the wave on the open sea.

    "As a wild wave in the wide North-Sea
    Green glimmering towards the summit, bears, with all
    Its stormy crests that smoke against the skies,
    Down on a bark, and overbears the bark,
    And him that helms it."

How perfect also the description of a wave breaking on a level,
sandy beach:

        "The crest of some slow-arching wave,
    Heard in dead night along that table-shore,
    Drops flat, and after the great waters break
    Whitening for half a league, and thin themselves,
    Far over sands marbled with moon and cloud,
    From less and less to nothing."

As to the moods thus stimulated, the one most frequently
provoked would seem to be that of sadness. Or would it be truer
to say that those whose thoughts are tinged with melancholy, or
weighted with sorrow, find in the restless, endless tossing and
breaking of the waves their fittest companions?

How sad this passage from the French poet-philosopher, Guyot.
"I remember that once, sitting on the beach, I watched
the serried waves rolling towards me. They came without
interruption from the expanse of the sea, roaring and white.
Beyond the one dying at my feet I noticed another; and farther
behind that one, another; and farther still another and another--a
multitude. At last, as far as I could see, the whole horizon
seemed to rise and roll on towards me. There was a reservoir of
infinite, inexhaustible forces there. How deeply I felt the
impotency of man to arrest the effort of that whole ocean in
movement! A dike might break one of the waves; it could break
hundreds and thousands of them; but would not the immense
and indefatigable ocean gain the victory? And this rising tide
seemed to me the image of the whole of nature assailing
humanity, which vainly wishes to direct its course, to dam it in,
to master it. Man struggles bravely; he multiplies his efforts.
Sometimes he believes himself to be the conqueror. That is
because he does not look far enough ahead, and because he does
not notice far out on the horizon the great waves which, sooner
or later, must destroy his work and carry himself away."

Similar is the train of thought which finds poetical expression in
Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach."

    "Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
    Only, from the long line of spray
    Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land
    Listen! you hear the grating roar
    Of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling,
    At their return, up the high strand,
    Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
    With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
    The eternal note of sadness in.
    . . .
    Sophocles heard it long ago,
    Heard it on the AEgaean, and it brought
    Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
    Of human misery; we
    Find also in the sound a thought;
    Hearing it by this distant northern sea."

And the thought! "The melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of
the Sea of Faith, retreating down the "naked shingles of the

But if the pessimistic mood may thus find support in watching
the waves of the sea, so no less surely can the hopeful and
joyous mood be evolved and stimulated by the same influence.
Before Sophocles came AEschylus. The greatest hero of this
earlier poet was Prometheus, the friend of man, who, tortured
but unshaken, looked out from his Caucasian rock on the
presentments of primeval nature. How sublime his appeal!

    "Ether of heaven, and Winds untired of wing,
    Rivers whose fountains fail not, and thou Sea
    Laughing in waves innumerable!"

To him the winds and waves brought a message of untiring,
indomitable energy--the movement, the gleam, inspired fresh
life and hope. The ideas immanent in the ocean wave are as
varied as the human experiences to which they are akin.

Or take another group of these ideas immanent in the
phenomena of the wave--the group which rouse and nurture the
aesthetic side of man's nature. Very significant in this regard is
the fact that not for the Greeks alone, but also for the Hindus
and the Teutons, the goddesses of beauty were wave-born.
When Aphrodite walked the earth, flowers sprang up beneath
her feet; but her birthplace was the crest of a laughing wave. So
Kama, the Hindu Cupid, and the Apsaras, lovely nymphs, rose
from the wind-stirred surface of the sea, drawn upward in
streaming mists by the ardent sun. So, too, the Teutonic Freyja
took shape in the sea-born cloudlets of the upper air.

The loveliness of the wave, dancing, tossing, or breaking must
have entered, from earliest days, deeply into the heart and
imagination of man, and have profoundly influenced his
mythology, his art, and his poetry. We trace this influence in
olden days by the myths of Poseidon with his seahorses and the
bands of Tritons, Nereids, and Oceanides--each and all giving
substance to vague intuitions and subconscious perceptions of
the physical beauty of the ocean.

And as for our own more immediate forefathers, the mystic
spell of the ocean wave sank deep into their rugged souls.
"When you so dance" (says Shakespeare to a maiden) "I wish
you a wave o' the sea, that you might ever do nothing but that."
The experiences of countless watchers of the wave went to the
framing of that wish!

And, as has been richly proved by quotations from our modern
poets, the mystic spell gains in potency as man's aesthetic
powers are keener and more disciplined. The present-day
nature-mystic needs no imaginary personifications to bring him
into communion with the beauty, the mystery, of the ocean
wave. He conceives of it as a manifestation of certain modes of
being which are akin to himself and which speak to him in
language too plain to be ignored or misinterpreted. Human
knowledge has not yet advanced far enough to define more
closely such modes of experience; but the fact of the experience



    Tiefer Stille herrscht im Wasser,
    Ohno Regung ruht das Meer,
    Und bekuemmert sieht der Schiffer
    Glatte Flache rings umher.

    Keine Luft von keiner Seite!
    Todesstille fuerchterlich!
    In der ungeheuern Weite
    Reget keine Welle sich.

Thus does Goethe, in this little poem of two verses, with a
masterly ease that carries conviction, suggest to us the subtle
power of a calm at sea. The mountain tarn, alone with the sky,
has a charm that is all its own. The shining levels of the lake, in
the lower hollows of the hills; the quiet reaches of a river where
the stream seems to pause and gather strength for its onward
course; even the still pool that hides in the meadows among the
alders and willows: each of these has its own peculiar charm--a
charm which is hard to analyse but almost universal in its range
of appeal. But potent above them all is this Meeresstille, this
calm at sea--when, as Bowring finely translates Goethe's second

    "Not a zephyr is in motion!
    Silence fearful as the grave!
    In the mighty waste of ocean
    Sunk to rest is every wave."

Turner, in his "Liber Studiorum," attempted to depict a calm at
sea. The picture is not one of his most successful efforts: but so
great an artist could not fail to seize on the essential features of
his subject. The sun is heralding his advent by flinging upward
athwart the mists and cloudlets a stream of diffused light which
fills the scene with a soft pervading glow. The surface of the
water is glassy, not much more substantial than the haze which
floats above it. But deep as is the calm, old ocean cannot quite
forget his innate restlessness; he gently urges onward a
succession of slow risings and fallings, with broad ripples to
mark their boundaries, and to tell of spent billows and
far-heaving tides. The movement of the waters is, as it were,
subconsciously felt rather than perceived; or, if perceived, it is
lost in the pervading sense of placid spaciousness. The boats
and their occupants, so far from disturbing the sense of calm,
are made to enhance it. And the unruffled surface of the water is
rendered palpably impalpable by the magic of reflections.

Morris has given us a word-picture of similar import.

    "Oh, look! the sea is fallen asleep,
        The sail hangs idle evermore;
    Yet refluent from the outer deep
        The low wave sobs upon the shore.
    Silent the dark cave ebbs and fills
        Silent the broad weeds wave and sway;
        Yet yonder fairy fringe of spray
    Is born of surges vast as hills."

Jefferies gives us a companion picture of a calm sea in full
sunshine. "Immediately in front dropped the deep descent of the
bowl-like hollow which received and brought up to me the faint
sound of the summer waves. Yonder lay the immense plain of
the sea, the palest green under the continued sunshine, as
though the heat had evaporated the colour from it; there was no
distinct horizon, a heat-mist inclosed it, and looked farther away
than the horizon would have done."

In each of these seascapes, the same essential features find a
place--the calm expanse without any defined boundary--the
silence--the play of delicate colour--the suggestions of rest after
toil, of peace after storm--and chiefest of all, the strangely
moving contrast of power and gentleness, the suggestion of
hidden strength. Doubtless we have in these the secret of much
of the mystic influence of the mighty ocean in its serenest
moods; doubtless we have in these the manifestations of
immanent ideas which have subtle power to subdue the human
soul to pensive thought and unwonted restfulness.

Not unlike them in general character and function, save for the
element of vastness, are the influences immanent in the calm of
evening or night landscapes. Goethe has an exquisite fragment
which is a fitting pendent to his Meeresstille:

    Ueber alien Gipfeln
    Ist Ruh,
    In allen Wipfeln
    Spuerest du
    Kaum einen Hauch;
    Die Voegelein schweigen im Walde.
    Warte nur, balde
    Ruhest du auch.

Thus translated by Bowring:

    "Hush'd on the hill
        Is the breeze;
    Scarce by the zephyr
        The trees
    Softly are pressed;
    The woodbird's asleep on the bough.
    Wait, then, and thou
    Soon wilt find rest."

Who does not sympathise, in the measure possible to him, with
Wordsworth's interpretations and premonitions?

    "It is a beauteous Evening, calm and free,
    The holy time is quiet as a Nun
    Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
    Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
    The gentleness of heaven is on the sea."

And a less well-known passage:

    "Thine is the tranquil hour, purpureal eve,
    But long as godlike wish, or hope divine,
    Informs my spirit, ne'er can I believe
    That this magnificence is wholly thine!
    --From worlds not quickened by the sun
    A portion of the gift is won."

Yes, the nature-mystic might well be content to rest his case on
the influences of a calm at sea or a peaceful sunset. These will
maintain their power as long as there are human eyes to see and
human emotions to be stirred.

Not the least of the charms of still water is one which was
mentioned in the description of Turner's picture--the charm of
reflections. And here we discover a fresh vein of Nature
Mysticism. As Hawthorne says, there is "no fountain so small
but that heaven may be reflected in its bosom." Nay, as painters
well know, the very puddles in a country lane, or in a London
street, may be transfigured by thus reflecting lights and colours,
and become indispensable factors in a composition.

The phenomena of perfect reflection are often of exceptional
beauty. How perfect the effect of Wordsworth's lines:

    "The swan on sweet St. Mary's Lake
    Floats double, swan and shadow."

And, more generally, of another lake:

            "The mere
    Seems firm as solid crystal, breathless, clear,
    And motionless; and, to the gazer's eye,
    Deeper than ocean, in the immensity
    Of its vague mountains and unreal sky."

So on the broad, slowly moving waters of peaty rivers, the
reflections of sky and landscape seem almost to exceed the
originals in lustre and delicate detail. Some of the Tasmanian
rivers possess this reflecting quality in an exceptional degree.

Nor are the phenomena of broken reflections inferior in beauty
and suggestion. Instead of motionless repetition of given detail,
there are flickering, sinuous, mazy windings and twistings of
colour, light, and shadow--a capricious hurrying from surface to
surface. Knowledge of optics cannot rob them of their marvel
and their glamour. And if such be their effect on the modern
mind, what must it have been on that of primitive man! No laws
of reflection came within his ken. He looked down on the still
surface of tarn, or pool, or fountain, and saw, sinking
downwards, another world, another sky, losing themselves in
mystery. Mere wonder would yield place to meditation. Ah!
what secrets must lurk in those crystal depths, if only one could
surprise them--wrest them from the beings who inhabit that
nether realm! Possibly even the world-riddle might so be
solved! And thus it came to pass that most water spirits were
deemed to be dowered with prophetic gifts.

The Teutonic water-gods were "wise"--they could foretell the
future. In classical mythology, Proteus, the old man of the sea,
presents himself as a well-developed embodiment of this belief.
Old Homer knew how to use the material thus provided, and
Virgil, in his choicest manner, follows the lead so given. In the
fourth book of the Georgics, Aristaeus, who had lost his bees, in
despair appealed to his mother, the river-nymph, Cyrene. She
bids him consult Proteus, the old prophet of the sea. He follows
her counsel, captures Proteus, and compels him to tell the cause
of his trouble. "The seer at last constrained by force, rolled on
him eyes fierce-sparkling with grey light, and gnashing his teeth
in wrath, opened his lips to speak the oracles of fate."

Once more the transient must be allowed to fall away, and the
central intuition be recognised and grasped. The sense of a
secret to be gained, of a mystery to be revealed--of a broken
reflection of some fuller world--has been nurtured by the
reflections of form and light and colour in nature's mirror. The
older, simpler impressions made by such phenomena persist
with deeper meanings. The "natural" emotion they stimulate
affords the kind of sustenance on which Nature Mysticism can
thrive. Longfellow, in his poem, "The Bridge," strikes the
deeper note. The rushing water draws the poet's reflections
away from a world of imperfection to the sphere of the ideal.

    "And for ever and for ever,
        As long as the river flows,
    As long as the heart has passions,
        As long as life has woes;

    The moon and its broken reflection
        And its shadows shall appear,
    As the symbol of love in heaven
        And its wavering image here."

And thus the mountain tarn, the placid lake, the quiet river
reaches, the hidden pool, and the ocean at rest, have each and all
their soul language, and can speak to man as a sharer of
soul-nature. Well might the Hebrew psalmist give us one of the
marks of the Divine Shepherd--"He leadeth me beside the still



Hitherto our attention has been almost exclusively fixed upon
the mystical influences of water in motion or at rest. And even
though we went no farther afield, a fair presentment has been
gained of what a modern nature-mystic might advance in
explanation and defence of his characteristic views and modes
of experience. We now turn to consider other ranges of physical
phenomena, which, though of equal dignity and significance,
will not meet with equal fullness of treatment--otherwise the
limits proposed for this study would be seriously exceeded.

We have seen how and why Thales deemed water to be the
_Welt-stoff_. His immediate successors, while adhering to his
principles and aims, were not content with his choice. They
successively sought for something less material. One of them,
Anaximenes, was attracted by the qualities and functions of the
atmosphere, and his speculations will serve as an introduction to
the mysticism of winds and storms and clouds. Only a single
statement of his is preserved in its original form; but fortunately
it is full of significance. "As our soul" (said the sage), "which
is air, holds us together, so wind and air encompass the whole
world." This, interpreted in the light of ancient comments,
shows that Anaximenes compared the breath of life to the air,
and regarded the two as essentially related--indeed as identical.
For the breath, he thought, holds together both animal and
human life; and so the air holds together the whole world in a
complex unity. He reached the wider doctrine by observing that
the air is, to all appearance, infinitely extended, and that earth,
water, and fire seem to be but islands in an ocean which spreads
around them on all sides, penetrating their inmost pores, and
bathing their smallest atoms. It was on such facts and
appearances that he based his main doctrine. If we think of the
modern theory of the luminiferous ether, we shall not be far
from his view-point. But the simpler and more obvious qualities
of the air would of course not be without their influence--its
mobility and incessant motion; its immateriality; its
inexhaustibility; its seeming eternity. It is, therefore, not
astonishing that with his attention thus focussed on a group of
truly wonderful phenomena, the old nature-philosopher should
have selected air as his primary substance--as the universal
vehicle of vital and psychic force.

It is of especial interest to the nature-mystic to find that
Anaximenes was faithful to the doctrine that the primary
substance must contain in itself the cause of its own motion.
And the interest is intensified in view of the fact that his
insistence on the life-giving properties of air rests on a widely
spread group of animistic notions which have exercised an
extraordinary influence on the world at large. Let Tylor furnish
a summary. "Hebrew shows _nephesh_, 'breath,' passing into all
the meanings of life, soul, mind, animal, while _ruach_ and
_neshamah_ make the like transition from 'breath' to 'spirit'; and
to these the Arabic _nefs_ and _ruh_ correspond. The same is
the history of the Sanskrit atman and prana, of Greek _psyche_
and _pneuma_, of Latin _anima, animus, spiritus_. So Slavonic
_duch_ has developed the meaning of 'breath' into that of 'soul'
or 'spirit'; and the dialects of the gypsies have this word _duk_
with the meanings of 'breath, spirit, ghost,' whether these
pariahs brought the word from India as part of their inheritance
of Aryan speech, or whether they adopted it in their migration
across Slavonic lands. German _geist_ and English _ghost_,
too, may possibly have the same original sense of breath." How
marvellously significant this ascent from the perceptions of
wind and breath to what we now understand by soul and spirit!
The most attenuated concepts have their basis in the physical
world. Even to this present day, as Max Mueller remarks, "the
soul or the spirit remains a breath, an airy breath, for this is the
least material image of the soul which they can conceive."

Another doctrine of Anaximenes is most worthy of note by
nature mystics, as well as by scientists. It is well stated by
Theophrastus. "The air differs in rarity and in density as the
nature of things is different; when very attenuated it becomes
fire, when more condensed, wind, and then cloud; and when
still more condensed, water and earth and stone; and all other
things are composed of these; and he regards motion as eternal,
and by this changes are produced." We have here a distinct
adumbration of the atomic theory in its most defensible form--
that is to say, a conception which makes the differences in
various substances consist in differences in condensation or
rarefaction of the particles of the primary substance. The simple
normal condition of this substance he deemed to be air. In its
rarefied condition, it becomes fire, and in its condensed
condition it progresses by stages from liquid to solid. And just
as the modern chemist is beginning to have good ground for
believing that all substances, or so-called elements, may be the
result of a series of differentiations and compositions of an
originally homogeneous substance, in spite of the fact that he is
not yet able to effect the transformations in his laboratory, so,
all those centuries ago, the Milesian sage seized on the same
root idea and made it the basis of a world philosophy. It is a
long cry from the old idea, familiar to Homer, that mist or
vapour is condensed air to the cosmology of a Herbert Spencer,
and yet nature is so rich in material for prompting intuitions of
her deepest truths that one ultimate cause of material evolution
was revealed in days when science was hardly brought to the

An examination, albeit cursory and partial, of this ancient
speculation, has thus revealed at any rate two results of prime
importance in the study of Nature Mysticism. The one is that
the air has furnished the primary type of the soul as the
principle of life--man's fleeting breath has suggested and
fostered the idea of immortality; the wind that bloweth where it
listeth, the idea of a realm of changeless spirit! The other result
is that certain of nature's most obvious phenomena, when seized
by intuition, can supply a key to some of her profoundest
secrets. Shall not these results be as true for the world of to-day
as for the flourishing times of old-world Miletus?



The recognition of the mystic element in external nature has had
its fluctuations in most ages and climes, and not least so in
England. Marvel, in his day, felt the numbness creeping on that
comes of divorce from nature, and uttered his plaint of "The
Mower against Gardens."

    "Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,
        While the sweet fields do lie forgot,
    Where willing nature does to all dispense
        A wild and fragrant innocence."

And declared of the polished statues made to adorn the gardens,

        "howsoe'er the figures do excel,
    The gods themselves with us do dwell."

His protests, however, did not avail to ward off the artificiality
of the reign of Pope. Here are two lines from the "Essay on

    "Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind
    Sees God in clouds, or hears Him in the wind."

"Untutored!" The poor Indian could have taught Pope many
things, and perhaps made a nobler man of him! For the poetry
and mystic influence of the winds were experienced and
expressed with a fullness of experience and feeling to which the
town-bred poet was all too great a stranger. The range, the
beauty and vigour of the myth of the four winds as developed
among the native races of America (says Tylor) had scarcely a
rival elsewhere in the mythology of the world. They evolved
"the mystic quaternion"--the wild and cruel North Wind--the
lazy South, the lover--the East Wind, the morning bringer--and
the West, Mudjekeewis, the father of them all. Outside the
quaternion were the dancing Pauppukkeewis, the Whirlwind,
and the fierce and shifty hero, Monobozho, the North-West
Wind. The spirit of these legends, if not their accurate detail,
can be appreciated in Longfellow's "Hiawatha."

The magnificent imagery of the Hebrew psalmists should have
given to Pope at least a touch of sympathy with "the untutored
mind"; for they love to represent God making "the winds His
messengers," or as Himself "flying on the wings of the wind."
Or the prophet Ezekiel could have brought home to him some of
the deeper thoughts that the winds have stirred in the soul of
man. "Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy,
son of man, and say to the wind: . . . Come from the four winds,
O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." The
Indian undoubtedly lacked tuition, but not exactly of the kind
his would-be tutor could bestow. Man, says Browning,

        "imprints for ever
    His presence on all lifeless things: the winds
    Are henceforth voices, wailing or a shout,
    A querulous mutter, or a quick gay laugh."

That is better. But why "lifeless"? Why "imprints"? Best is the
Hebrew apostrophe--"come from the four winds, O breath, and
breathe--that we may live. Give us of the life that is in you."
And that is the mystic's prayer.

The winds of heaven were bound to make indelible impressions
on the primitive mind. But few will be prepared for Max
Mueller's statement that the wind, next to fire, is the
most important phenomenon in nature which has led to the
conception of a divine being. But our surprise ceases when we
realise how manifest and universal are the parts played by the
wind in relation to man's weal or woe--they bring the rain, they
drive the storm, they clear the air. The landsman knows much--
the sailor more. Guy de Maupassant makes the sailor say, "Vous
ne le (vent) connaissez point, gens de la terre! Nous autres, nous
le connaissons plus que notre pere ou que notre mere, cet
invisible, ce terrible, ce capricieux, ce sournois, ce feroce. Nous
l'aimons et nous le redoutons, nous savons ses malices et ses
coleres . . . car la lutte entre nous et lui ne s'interrompt

Wind-gods and wind-myths are practically of world-wide
diffusion. Those of the American Indians have already been
noted. Similar, if less striking and poetical, are those which
prevail among the Polynesians and Maoris. Those of the Greeks
and Romans are best known, but have abundant parallels in
other lands. The Maruts of the Vedic hymns are unequivocally
storm-gods, who uproot forests and shatter rocks--strikers,
shouters, warriors--though able anon to take the form of
new-born babes. The Babylonians had their wind-gods, good and
bad, created in the lower part of the heaven, and joining at times
in the fateful fight against the dragon. And our Teutonic fathers
had their storm-gods who were brave warriors, Odin, or Wodin,
being the chief. Grimm thus sums up Wodin's characteristics.
"He is the all-pervading and formative power, who bestows
shape and beauty on man and all things, from whom proceeds
the gift of song, and the management of war and victory, on
whom at the same time depends the fertility of the soil, nay,
wishing and all the highest gifts and blessings." We have here a
typical transition. The abstract conception of "the all-pervading
creative and formative power is evidently later than that of the
storm-god, rushing through the air in the midst of the howling
tempest--later even than that of the god who quaffs the draught
of inspiration and shares it with seers, bards, and faithful fallen
warriors. The idea of life or soul emerges, and frees itself
from its cruder elements; the tempest god yields place to the
All-Father, sitting on the throne of the world. The same evolution
is seen in the case of the cloud-compelling Zeus. Nay, Jehovah
Himself would seem to have been originally a god of storms,
sitting above the canopy of the aerial water-flood, "making the
clouds His chariot," and "walking upon the wings of the wind,"
His voice the thunder, His shaft the lightning. How strange and
unexpected the transformations of these immanent ideas! Yet
there is organic continuity throughout. So large is the place
filled by the phenomena of the winds, that human imagination
has not always stopped short at their mere personification or
deification. In many American languages, we are told, the same
word is used for storm and for god; so, too, with certain tribes
in Central Africa. That is to say, the name for the storm-wind
has become the general name for deity!

But how about the present? Can it be said that in the present
day, among civilised peoples, the phenomena of the winds have
any important part to play? An appeal to literature is decisive on
the point. No description of open-air life, or even of life within
doors where nature is not altogether shut out, can pass over the
emotional influences of the winds. They sob, they moan, they
sigh; they rustle, roar, or bellow; they exhilarate or depress;
they suggest many and varied trains of thought.

    "Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
    Thou art not so unkind
    As man's ingratitude"--

the connection here is not altogether based on fancy--the biting
winds of winter have their own emotional "tone" for susceptible
minds, just as truly as the spanking breeze "that follows fast,"
or the balmy zephyr of summer, and have moulded modern
thought in manifold and unsuspected modes. Shelley, who has
been called the great laureate of the wind, contemplating the
coming storm and the wild whirling of the autumn leaves, is
profoundly moved and exclaims:

    "O wild West-Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being--
    . . . Be thou, spirit fierce,
    My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one,
    Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
    Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth."

Alexander Smith, with a spirit rendered buoyant by the blast,
tells how

    "The Wind, that grand old harper, smote
    His thunder harp of pines."

Guy de Maupassant, in the passage already partly quoted, shows
that the modern sailor can still personify. "Quel personnage, le
vent, pour les marins! On en parle comme d'un homme, d'un souverain
tout puissant, tantot terrible et tantot bienveillant. . . .
Aucun ennemi ne nous donne que lui la sensation du combat, ne
nous force a tant de prevoyance, car il est le maitre de la mer,
celui qu'on peut eviter, utiliser ou fuir, mais qu'on ne dompte
jamais." Kingsley breaks forth:

    "Welcome, wild North-Easter!
        Shame it is to see
    Odes to every zephyr;
        Ne'er an ode to thee.
    . . .
    Come as came our fathers,
        Heralded by thee,
    Conquering from the eastward,
        Lords by land and sea.

    Come, and strong within us
        Stir the Viking's blood,
    Bracing brain and sinew;
        Blow, thou wind of God!"

No, the power of vision is not dim, on man's part; nor, on the
part of the winds of heaven, is abated their natural power to rule
men's moods as they rule the responsive ocean. Those whose
mystic insight is undulled by the materialistic tendencies of the
age can still have glimpses of

        "heaven's cherubim, hors'd
    Upon the sightless couriers of the air."

The untutored mind of the Indian, says Pope, sees God not only
in winds, but in clouds. Clouds are, so to speak, the creations of
the air, and share its mystic fortunes. Even Keble could respond
to their suggestion of life, and asks:

    "The clouds that wrap the setting sun,
    Why, as we watch their floating wreath,
    Seem they the breath of life to breathe?"

Wordsworth could not fail to have this experience:

    "I wandered lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o'er vales and hills."

These are genuine echoes of primitive feeling. Needless to
elaborate the evidence of the ancient myths or of the beliefs of
primitive peoples. Not that the evidence will not amply repay
study, but that for the purpose of grasping general principles,
that just adduced in the case of the winds has sufficiently served
our turn. The following old Finnish prayer, however, is so
fraught with significance that it would be unpardonable to pass
it by. It is addressed to Ukko, the Heaven-god:

    "Ukko, thou, O God above us,
    Thou, O Father in the heavens,
    Thou who rulest in the cloud-land,
    And the little cloud-lambs leadest,
    Send us down the rain from heaven,
    Make the drops to drop with honey,
    Let the drooping corn look upward,
    Let the grain with plenty rustle."

This beautiful little poem-prayer places us about midway in the
development of the conscious expression of the mystic
influences exercised by cloud-land. We see how, as with the
winds, the clouds have played a severely practical role among
the conditions which have rendered human life possible upon
the globe. The original animistic conception of the clouds as
themselves personal agents has yielded to that of a god who
rules the clouds, though the animistic tendency still remains in
the expression, "the little cloud-lambs." Now we have passed to
the stage of modern animism which regards the clouds as a part
of a vast system, the essential being of which must be described
as consciousness.

The chief of the ideas immanent in cloud scenery would seem to
be the vagueness and unsubstantiality of its ever-changing
pageantry, prompting dreams of glorious possibilities which our
earthly environment is yet too gross to realise. At any rate, it is
safe to assert that this constituted its main charm for the
passionately visionary soul of Shelley. Study this description of
a cloud-scape--one among a host which could be gathered from
his poems:

    "The charm in which the sun has sunk, is shut
        By darkest barriers of enormous cloud,
    Like mountain over mountain huddled--but
        Growing and moving upwards in a crowd,
    And over it a space of watery blue,
    Which the keen evening star is shining through."

Or study that poem, unsurpassable of its kind, devoted wholly
to this theme--especially the stanza which closes it:

    "I am the daughter of earth and water,
        And the nursling of the sky;
    I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
        I change, but I cannot die.
    For after the rain, when with never a stain
        The pavilion of heaven is bare,
    And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams,
        Build up the blue dome of air,
    I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
        And out of the caverns of rain,
    Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb
        I arise and unbuild it again."

How crammed are these lines with the purest Nature Mysticism
as moderns understand it! The sense of living process reigns
supreme. They are the offspring, not of fancy, nor even of
imagination as ordinarily conceived--but of insight, of vision, of
living communion with a living world.

It is tempting, while dealing with the airy realms of cloud-land,
to dwell at length on the mystic influence of the queen of aerial
phenomena--the rainbow. That influence in the past has been
immense; it still is, and ever will be, a power to be reckoned
with. Science cannot rob it of its glories. The gold-winged Iris
of Homer, swifter-footed than the wind, has passed. The
Genesis story of "the bow in the cloud" may dissolve in the
alembic of criticism--but the rainbow itself remains, still a
sevenfold bridge of souls from this solid-seeming earth to a
rarer land beyond. Who is there who cannot sympathise with

    "My heart leaps up when I behold
        A rainbow in the sky.
    So was it when I was a child;
        So it is now I am a man;
    So let it be when I am old--
        Or let me die."

Tempting is it also to treat of the birds--the denizens of the air--
to comment on the exquisite trio of bird-poems, Wordsworth's
"Cuckoo," Shelley's "Ode to a Skylark," and Keats' "Ode to a
Nightingale." For assuredly it is the medium in which these
delicate creatures pass their lives that gives them the chiefest
share of their magic and their mystery. But this gem from
Victor Hugo must suffice for all the tuneful choir:

    "Like a songbird be thou on life's bough,
        Lifting thy lay of love.
    So sing to its shaking,
    So spring at its breaking,
        Into the heaven above."

The dome of air thus expands into the dome of heaven with its
eternal fires, and bids us turn to the third of the ancient sages
whose speculations are aiding our steps in this tentative study.



Heracleitus is a philosopher whose speculations are of
surpassing interest for the student of Nature Mysticism. He was
born about 540 B.C., at Ephesus, and lived some sixty years. He
was one of the most remarkable thinkers of antiquity, and the
main substance of his teaching remains as a living and
stimulating element in the most advanced scientific and
metaphysical doctrines of the present day. But taking the point
of view of the nature-mystic, he derives his special significance
from the manner of his early training, and from the source of his
early inspirations.

While still a youth, he forsook the bustle of the city for the
solitude and charm of the lovely country which surrounded his
home, and he definitely set himself to feed his imagination on
the concrete and sensuous imagery of the poets. He laid
himself open to the impressions and intuitions which such an
environment so richly provided, and thus laid the foundation for
those speculations on the nature of the universe and of life
which have rendered his influence so lasting and his fame so

He is undoubtedly difficult to understand, and his cryptic
utterances earned for him the doubtful title of the Dark. But his
champions have pointed out that his obscurity of diction was
not the outcome of pride or intentional assumption of mystery,
but of the genuine difficulty he found in giving expression to
his novel thoughts. He waxes vehement in his struggles to
subdue his language to his purposes, his vague intuitions, his
movements in worlds not fully realised; and in this regard he
can at any rate claim the sympathy of mystics of every school.

Such was the man and such his training. What was his central,
dominating thought? What was his conception of the universal
Ground of existence? It was this--Pure Fire--motion is the secret
of the eternal change which characterises all known phenomena
of every grade and kind. "All things flow" is the far-famed
aphorism which sums up his philosophy. This eternal movement
is not, however, formless, but is determined to ever-recurrent
forms, and is obedient to law and rhythm.

He taught, then, that the eternal movement which constitutes
existence is Fire. "This one order of all things (he affirms) was
created by none of the gods, nor yet by any of mankind; but it
was ever, and is, and shall be, eternal fire-ignited by measure
and extinguished by measure." But more--he held that this
Fire-motion is alive. It will be remembered that Thales had placed
the cause of motion in matter itself, not in something other than
matter; that is to say, he was to all intents and purposes a
hylozoist. Heracleitus went a step farther, and maintained that
the life in Fire-motion is _organic_, like to that which is
manifested in the plant and animal worlds. His idea of the
essential kinship of all things is very clear and complete.

He conceived, therefore, that soul is in no way fundamentally
distinct from any other of the transformations of the ever-living
Fire. And thus the problem which so grievously torments
modern psychologists, that of the connection between soul and
body, did not exist for him. And a notable corollary of his view
is this. Since man has essential kinship with his environment, he
can apprehend both the outer surface of things and their inner
law; and it is in this recognition of their inner law that his true
nature is to be found. Now if it be granted that this inner law
can be apprehended by intuition as well as by conscious reasoning
process, the corollary is one to which the nature-mystic can
of his own master principle.

The soul, as fire, depends on the cosmic Fire for sustenance, the
breath being the physical medium; and in this regard, all that
was said of Anaximenes and "Breath," or Air, will have its
place. But Heracleitus has a further thought which is in full
harmony with the nature-mystic's chief contention. He holds
that _sense perception_ is also a medium, for the outer fire is
thereby absorbed by the inner fire. The value of this thought
remains in spite of the sage's doctrine of the body. For though
the body is regarded by him as a clog on the activity of the inner
fire, because it consists of water and earth (two forms in which
the movement of the Fire is greatly reduced) it is nevertheless
akin to the soul, and is itself destined, in the course of ceaseless
change, to become Fire in its most living and active form.

Such is the central doctrine of this noted thinker, round which
all his other teaching turned. Let us now ask, as in the
corresponding cases of Thales and Anaximander, why the
particular element was chosen as the Ground of all things. The
answer to this question will furnish, as in the previous cases,
much matter for our special purpose, since the emphasis will lie
rather on the physical properties and functions of fire, than on
its more abstract ontology.

It is obvious that Heracleitus would start with a knowledge of
the speculations of his more immediate predecessors, and of the
data on which they were based--the phenomena of circulation in
nature, evaporation, mist, rain, melting, freezing, and the rest.
And we find that in this direction he merely amplified the older
systems, taking fire, instead of water or air, as his _Welt-stoff_.
He also observed, with special care, certain suggestive cases of
rarefaction by heat and condensation by cold; as also the facts
of constant decomposition and renewal in the vegetable and
animal worlds. But the phenomenon which stands out as the
chiefest determinant of his thought is one which is always
bound to act as a powerful stimulant on a thoughtful mind--that
of combustion.

The flame of an ordinary fire can still be a thing of wonder to
the man whose mind is open to receive impressions even from
the commonplace. How illusive it is!--dancing, darting,
flickering, flashing--appearing, disappearing--unsubstantial yet
active and almost miraculously potent. The effect upon the
mind of primitive man must have been keen and vivid to the
highest degree, and must have produced results of corresponding
significance upon his spiritual development.

But the deeper kind of wonder is reserved for the systematic
speculative thinker, whose attention is arrested by the
phenomena of a steadily burning flame, say that of a lamp. The
oil is sucked up into the wick and slowly decreases in volume.
At the point where the flame begins it rises in vapour, becomes
brilliant, and, in the case of a clear flame, disappears. There is
thus a constant movement from below upwards. The flame has
all the appearance of a "thing," with comparatively definite
form and continued existence, and yet is never really the same,
not for the minutest fraction of a moment. It is an appearance
born of incessant motion--let the motion stop, the flame is gone.
Where the burning is accompanied by smoke, there is an
apparent return of volatilised matter to solid form.

Now let a philosopher like Heracleitus be meditating on nature
as a circulatory system, and let him, by chance or otherwise,
bring together in his mind the phenomena of a burning lamp and
the cosmic facts for which he seeks an explanation--is it
difficult to imagine his Eureka? At any rate, Heracleitus felt that
in the phenomena of combustion he had gained an insight into
the ultimate constitution of nature. And he concluded from them
that there is no such thing as substance, properly so called, but
simply constant movement; the movement _is_ substance. The
great solid-seeming cosmos is motion; some of it visible, some
of it imperceptible; some of it rising upward to serve as fuel,
some of it falling downward, after having fed the flame, to form
the constituents of the present world. The motion is constant,
the stream ever-flowing: no "thing" is ever at rest, and, if it
were at rest, would disappear.

The marvel is that with such scanty data, Heracleitus was able
to attain to views which are in truly remarkable harmony with
the most advanced theories as to the constitution of matter.
Nowadays the very qualities of hardness and impenetrability are
being ascribed to motion--to the almost inconceivable rapidity
of the whirling of electrons within the system of the atom. Le
Bon, for example, in his "Evolution of Matter" and his
"Evolution of Forces," contends that atoms are continually
breaking down, radium presenting merely an extreme case of a
general rule, and that the final product is something which is
no longer matter. Robbed of motion, what we call matter
disappears! It eludes detection by any methods known to us, and
ceases, therefore, so far as we are concerned, to be existent.
Atoms, then, according to this modern doctrine, are complex
systems of motion; and bodies, all agree, are aggregates of
atoms. It seems to follow that the ground of reality, from the
point of view of physics, is motion. In short, as Heracleitus
taught, the world is the result of ceaseless motion. Tyndall's
doctrine of "heat as a mode of motion" is being generalised until
it covers the whole field of material phenomena. Or approach
the theory of Heracleitus from the side of modern astronomy,
the harmony between old and new is equally striking. All
substances, said he, spring from fire and to fire they are bound
to return. It does not require much special knowledge to realise
that this statement contains the pith of the latest theories of the
birth and death of worlds. From fire-mist, says the modern
astronomer, they were condensed, and to fire-mist, by collisions
or otherwise, they will return. What the particular stages may
be, what the significance of the nebula;, what the cosmic
functions of electricity, and other like problems--may be, and
will be, matter for keen debate. But the grand generalisation
remains--from fire-mist back again to fire-mist. How modern,
also, the grand unity which such a theory gives to existence as a
whole. Physics, psychology, sociology, even spiritual facts, all
come under the sway of the vast generalisation, because all
concerned with the same ultimate Reality. The most striking
parallel is found, perhaps, in the doctrine of Energy, which is
attracting so much attention at the present time, and of which
Ostwald is a champion so doughty. It embodies an attempt to
bring into one category the various physical forces together with
the phenomena of organic evolution, of psychology, and of
sociology in the largest sense. Whether the attempt is successful
or not, it is a tribute to the genius of the ancient sage, though it
seems to lack that definite element of consciousness, or soul-life,
which was so adequately recognised by its great predecessor.

Many other points in the system of Heracleitus are worthy of
the closest study. Intensely interesting, for example, is his
doctrine that strife is the condition of harmony, and indeed of
existence. Schelling reproduced this idea in his well-known
theory of polarity; Hegel developed it in his dialectic triad--
Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis; and the electrical theories of
matter and force now in vogue fall easily into line with it--not to
speak of the dominant theory of evolution as involving a
struggle for existence, and as applied in well-nigh all
departments of enquiry and research. But it is enough to have
grasped the central principle of Fire-motion to prove that the
phenomena of fire have had an influence in the development of
man's intellectual and spiritual life--an influence which cannot
easily be exaggerated. Heracleitus claims an honoured place in
the line of nature-mystics.



There can be no doubt, as already stated, that, of all physical
phenomena, fire had the most marked effect upon the imagination
of primitive man. He saw that it was utterly unlike anything
else known to him, both in its properties and in its action.
If of anything a divine nature could be predicated, it was
fire--the standing miracle--at once destroying and life-giving--
material and immaterial--pre-eminently an agent with strange
and vast powers, known and unknown. For many objects and
institutions a divine origin was sought; it could not fail to be the
case with fire. Even the poor Tasmanian natives felt it could not
be a thing of earth, and told each other how it was thrown down
like a star by two black fellows who are now in the sky, the twin
stars, Castor and Pollux. A great gap separates this simple tale
from the elaborate Prometheus myth, and yet the same essential
features appear in both: and between the two are found a varied
series of stories and legends, belonging to many climes and
ages, which ring the changes on the same fundamental ideas.
The whole of the ancient world believed that the origin of fire
must be divine. And the various steps can be clearly traced by
which the worship, originally accorded to the nature-power
itself, was transferred to a spirit behind the power, and centred
at last on the supreme Deity.

For primitive man, as Max Mueller well points out, the
phenomena of fire would present a dual aspect--on the one hand
as a fatal and destructive element, on the other hand, as a
beneficent and even homely agency. The lightning would be
seen flashing from the one end of heaven to the other, darting
down at times to set ablaze the forests and prairies, at times to
maim and kill both animals and men. Thus experienced, it
would strike terror into the beholders, and impress them with a
vivid sense of the presence of spiritual powers. As a late
product of the emotions and conceptions thus stimulated, we
have the fine myth of the ancient nature goddess, Athene--
sprung from the head of Zeus, the austere virgin, who was to
become the personification of prudence, self-restraint, and
culture, the celestial representative of the loftiest intellectual
and spiritual ideals of the Greek world at its best. Hence, too,
the group of conceptions which make the lightning and
thunderbolts the weapons of the sky, putting them into the
hands of the supreme ruler, and making them at last the symbols
of law and order. "Out of the fire" (says Ezekiel) "went forth
lightning." "Out of the throne" (says the seer of the Apocalypse)
"went forth lightnings."

In strong contrast is the beneficent aspect of fire, which, once
known and "tamed," becomes almost a necessity for human life.
It affords new protection against the cold, makes man peculiarly
the cooking animal, and above all establishes the family hearth
with all that is meant by "home." Of more distinctly utilitarian
import are the uses of fire in fashioning tools and instruments,
and the smelting of metals. And it is significant to note that
man's use of fire almost certainly owed its origin to his
emotional attitude towards it, culminating in worship. As many
anthropologists have pointed out, the fire on the hearth had its
unmistakable religious aspect, the result of the feeling of
veneration for the "element" of fire before its production or use
had been understood. And the kindling of the fire on the hearth
was as much a sacrifice to the gods as a means to the cooking of
food. Each house became a veritable temple of fire.

Wonderfully instructive, as well as fascinating it is to trace the
development of the home idea as based on the emotional
experiences stimulated by the mystic influences of fire. Each
house, as was just stated, was regarded as a temple of the divine
element; but the common house, the tribe house, was specially
singled out for this honour, and became a temple properly
so-called. When bands of citizens set out to found colonies in
strange lands, they took with them glowing embers from the
tribal or national hearth, as AEneas brought with him to Italy
the sacred fire of Troy. Until lately, we are told, the German
peasant just married would take to his new home a burning log
from the family hearth.

The classical instance of the development of this idea is found
in the cult of the Greek Hestia, the Latin Vesta, a goddess who
was the personification of fire, the guardian of the household
altar and of the welfare of cities and nations. She was
worshipped fairly widely in Greece and Asia Minor, but
principally in Rome, where a beautiful circular temple was
dedicated to her service; her ministers, the Vestal virgins, were
held in the greatest honour and were chosen from among the
loveliest and noblest of Roman maidens. In this temple was
kept ever brightly burning the sacred fire supposed to have been
kindled by the rays of the sun, and to have been brought by
AEneas when he founded his kingdom in the new land of Italy.
The extinction of this fire would have been regarded as the
gravest public calamity, foreboding disaster. Its flames were
intended to represent the _purity_ of the goddess, thus
emphasising the mystic aspect of another physical property of
fire--its purifying power. "Our God" (said the writer of the
Epistle to the Hebrews) "is a consuming fire."

Greece had its common hearth at Delphi. It was also supposed
that at the centre of the earth there was a hearth which answered
to that. In the Apocalypse we read of the altar with its sacred
fire as central in heaven. Truly these concepts are persistent!
And why? Because there is more than imagination in them; they
are the products of ideas immanent in the material phenomena
in which they are embodied, and through which they manifest
themselves to the human soul.

There could not fail to be fire-gods many, and a study of their
respective characters, especially in the earlier stages of their
development, often furnishes a key to the intuitional workings
of the primitive mind as prompted by the always arresting, and
often terrorising phenomena of fire and flame. Max Mueller's
detailed study of the development of the Hindu god, Agni, was
mentioned in an earlier chapter. The name originally means the
Mover, and arose, doubtless, from the running, darting, leaping
movement of flame. Beginning his career as a purely physical
god, he advanced through various stages of spiritualisation until
he became the supreme deity. Is not the problem of motion
still one of the most fascinating and profound? Bergson's
"L'Evolution creatrice" is one of the latest attempts to grapple
with it, and those who in early India personified fire as the
Mover were his legitimate predecessors.

The Greek Hephaestus personified the brightness of flame, and
took shape as a god of ripe age, of muscular form, of serious
countenance, but lame. Why lame? Why this physical defect
as a drawback to so much physical beauty and strength? A
Frenchman, Emerie, suggests--"attendu la marche inegale et
vacillante de la flamme." Certainly fire, as compared with water
and air, is dependent on sustenance, as Heracleitus so well
realised, as also its consequent limitations in regard to free and
independent movement: but the sage solved this difficulty by
making the Fire-motion feed, as it were, upon itself. The god
was represented as puny at birth because flame, especially as
kindled artificially, so often starts from a tiny spark. His
marriage to Aphrodite typifies "the association of fire with the
life-giving forces of nature." So, remarks Max Mueller, the
Hindu Agni was the patron of marriage. How many lines of
thought open out before us here, bringing us face to face, by
pre-scientific modes of mental activity, with some of the
deepest mysteries of human life!

Vulcan, the Latin parallel of Hephaestus, suggests to us the
awe-inspiring phenomena of volcanoes, which, though not of
frequent occurrence, are calculated by virtue of their magnitude
and grandeur to stimulate emotion and intuition to an
exceptional degree. Fear would naturally predominate, but, even
for the primitive mind, would be one factor only in a complex
whole. Matthew Arnold has attempted to portray the soul-storm
raised by the sight of the molten crater of AEtna. He makes
Empedocles, the poet-philosopher, climb the summit of the
mountain, gaze for the last time on the realm of nature spread
around, and apostrophise the stars above and the volcanic fires
beneath his feet.

            "And thou, fiery world,
    That sapp'st the vitals of this terrible mount
    Upon whose charred and quaking crust I stand--
    Thou, too, brimmest with life."

Note here again the sense of life--of kinship, so fundamental to
Nature Mysticism. And so to the close.

    "And therefore, O ye elements! I know--
    Ye know it too--it hath been granted me
    Not to die wholly, not to be all enslaved.
    I feel it in this hour. The numbing cloud
    Mounts off my soul; I feel it, I breathe free,
    Is it but for a moment?
    --Ah, boil up, ye vapours!
    Leap and roar, thou sea of fire!
    My soul glows to meet you.
    Ere it flag, ere the mists
    Of despondency and gloom
    Rush over it again,
    Receive me, save me!
        [He plunges into the crater.]"

Out of the ancient beliefs and myths concerning subterranean
fires grew up the enormously important beliefs in Hell and
Purgatory, which attained such abnormal proportions in
medieval times, and which are by no means yet extinct. The
most vivid picture of Hell, founded largely on ancient material,
though with a Biblical basis, is found in Milton. In language
which recalls the Titanomachy, the poet tells of Satan and his
myrmidons hurled from heaven.

        "Him the almighty Power
    Hurled headlong flaming from th' aetherial sky,
    With hideous ruin and combustion, down
    To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
    In adamantine chains and penal fire."

Confounded for a time by his fall, he lies rolling in the fiery
gulf; but at length, rolling round his baleful eyes, he sees

    "A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
    As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames
    No light, but rather darkness visible
    Served only to discover sights of woe,
    Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
    And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
    That comes to all; but torture without end
    Still urges, and a fiery deluge fed
    With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed."

What manner of intuitions are embodied here? Perchance we
are beginning to treat them too lightly, as also the Hindu
doctrine of Karma; for the universe, after all, is the scene of the
reign of law. But however this may be, we are glad to emerge,
with Dante, from the regions of punitive flames into the regions
of the fires that purge--into the pure air that surrounds the Isle
of Purgatory.

    "Sweet hue of eastern sapphire, that was spread
    O'er the serene aspect of the pure air,
    High up as the first circle, to mine eyes
    Unwonted joy renewed, soon as I 'scaped
    Forth from the atmosphere of deadly gloom
    That had mine eyes and bosom filled with grief."

Shall we invest with like purgatorial powers the flaming swords
that barred the way to Paradise? Is such the inner meaning of
the appeal:

            "do thou my tongue inspire
    Who touched Isaiah's hallowed lips with fire"?

The more hostile aspects of fire are most strikingly embodied in
the Teutonic giant Logi (Flame) with his children, who were
supposed to be the authors of every great conflagration, and
who might be seen in the midst of the flames, their heads
crowned with chaplets of fire. They may be taken, like the
Greek giants and Titans, as personifications of the wild brute
forces of nature, which strive to hinder man's work and destroy
what he has made. For, as Schiller says:

        "the elements are hostile
    To the work of human hand."

For such are but some out of the many forms in which man has
struggled to give expression to his intuitions that there is
something wrong in nature--to his deep sense of division and
conflict in the cosmic process. Heracleitus, as we saw, held that
conflict is an essential condition of existence. At any rate, it is
true, that order is only won by severe conflict with destructive
and irregular powers. An ancient expression of this experience
is found in the long contest waged between Zeus and the other
children of Cronos. A modern expression is found in Huxley's
illustration of the fenced garden that, if untended, speedily
returns to its wild condition. In the framing and moulding of
this experience, the hostile aspects of fire have played no
insignificant part.

In this context it would be natural to treat of the Sun as the
predominant manifestation of fire, of which Shelley, in his
hymn to Apollo, has said:

    "I am the eye with which the Universe
    Beholds itself and knows itself divine."

The various sun-gods would be passed in review, Ra of the
Egyptians, Apollo of the Greeks, and the various forms of
sun-worship, from the most primitive times down through the
Persian religion, that of the Peruvians, the "children of the sun,"
to that of the modern Parsees--and that of the unnamed
multitudes who in substance have echoed the words which
Moore puts into the mouths of the Hyperboreans:

    "To the Sun-god all our hearts and lyres
        By day, by night belong;
    And the breath we draw from his living fires
        We give him back in song."

But the subject is too great and is deserving of special
treatment. Certain of the more essential conceptions involved
will come before us in the chapter on light. Mirabeau on his
death-bed would seem to have put the whole matter in the
briefest space--"Si ce n'est pas la Dieu, c'est du moins son
cousin-german." Turner, on his deathbed, was briefer and
bolder still--"The sun is God." Knowing the man and knowing
his work, we can understand what he meant. Put it the other
way round, we have the same, and yet the fuller truth--"the Lord
God is a Sun."



Robert Fludd, the English Rosicrucian, who died in 1637, wrote
a treatise on the universe, in which he taught that man was a
microcosm of the macrocosm, and that light and darkness are
the two great principles of existence, the one of animate, the
other of inanimate nature. He held that soul and life are every
day shed from the sun upon all objects open to his beams. For
such doctrines as these he was denounced as practically an
atheist! Fortunately the times have changed, though we have
still much to learn in the way of rational tolerance and
sympathetic receptivity.

Who shall say how old is this idea of two distinct, and generally
opposing principles, the light and the dark? The Babylonian
cosmology carries us a long way back, but not to the beginning
of such mystical conceptions. For in that cosmology Marduk is
a well-developed god of light, with Tiamat as his antithesis, the
goddess of the dark, and the nature and course of the deadly
contest between them has taken form in a well-defined series of

One of the most obvious emotional effects of darkness is to
inspire fear, and there are few who have not in some degree and
on some occasions experienced a sense of discomfort in the
dark--a chill, or a shrinking, which in certain cases, especially
with children, may amount to terror. It is possible that we have
here, as is often contended, an organic reminiscence of the
experience of our remote ancestors. Certainly it is not difficult
for us to sympathise with the primitive dread of darkness, nor to
understand the transition to the conception of darkness as a
hostile power. But there is also an element which may be
regarded as simply personal and individual--a natural
anticipation of unknown dangers, and a sense of helplessness
should the apprehensions be realised. There is, moreover, an
element of a still more directly mystical character, that which
Everett describes as a feeling that in the darkness the familiar
world is swept away and that we are touching the limits of the
natural. Hence the chill of the unknown and supernatural.

However this may be, the fact remains that from the earliest
known times, there have been powers of darkness set over
against the powers of light; and the conflict between them has
suggested with exceptional vividness the conflict between good
and evil. The opening verses of the Bible, with their chaos and
darkness, and the sublime command--"Let there be light"--are in
line with a vast body of primitive myth and speculation which
represents the good God as the Creator of light, or as light itself
over against the dark. The mysticism of the prologue to St.
John's Gospel both represented and fostered ideas which were
current in the earliest Christian communities and have coloured
the whole of the primitive Christian literature.

So in the most ancient of the classical mythologies, Night was
one of the oldest deities, daughter of Chaos, and sister of
Erebus, the dark underworld. So in Persian dogmatic we have
the same essential concepts. From the beginning existed
uncreated light and uncreated darkness--the opposing kingdoms
of Ahura and Ahriman.

Who shall say what great cosmic facts lie behind these vague
and looming intuitions? The physical merges by insensible
degrees into the aesthetic, the moral, the spiritual. On the one
hand, the chill, the blankness, the negation, sometimes the
horror, of the darkness. And on the other hand the purity and
beauty, the colour and effulgence of the light--above all, its
joy-giving, life-giving, though noiseless, energy.

Coming down to the present, we ask if these mystic influences
of light and of darkness still retain their power. Can we doubt
it? We have Milton's Melancholy, "of Cerberus and blackest
Midnight born"--"where brooding darkness spreads his jealous
wings." All this no mere refurbishing of classical lore, but the
outcome of deep sympathy with the poets of the prime. And the
same is true of his buoyant lines that describe the breaking of
the day, when morn

    "Waked by the circling hours, with rosy hand
    Unbarr'd the gates of light."

In sympathy, too, with the old belief in Ahura's final victory is
Emerson's declaration that "the night is for the day, but the day
is not for the night."

Browning finely discriminates the grades of darkness in
Sordello, where he addresses Dante as

            "pacer of the shore
    Where glutted hell disgorgeth filthiest gloom,
    Unbitten by its whirring sulphur-spume;
    Or whence the grieved and obscure waters slope
    Into a darkness quieted by hope;
    Plucker of amaranths grown beneath God's eye
    In gracious twilights where His chosen lie."

Homer and Job are at one in associating darkness with the
grave, and all that the grave implies. "Before I go whence I shall
not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of
death." Homer and Ecclesiastes are one in love of the sunlit sky:
"Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes
to behold the sun." And Shakespeare in fullest sympathy cries:

            "See how the sun
    Walks o'er the top of yonder eastern hill."

And sunrises and sunsets wake in Wordsworth's soul the
thought of

    "The light that never was on sea or land."

And it is the world-old feeling of life and joy that breathes in
Blake's lines "To Morning":

    "O holy virgin! clad in purest white,
    Unlock heaven's golden gates and issue forth;
    Awake the dawn that sleeps in heaven; let light
    Rise from the chambers of the east, and bring
    The honey'd dew that cometh on waking day.
    O radiant morning, salute the sun,
    Roused like a huntsman to the chase, and with
    Thy buskin'd feet appear upon our hills."

But what of modern science? Does not that eliminate the mystic
element? Far from that, it increases it. The dominant theory is
that light is a sensation caused by waves in ether which travel at
a speed of 186,000 miles a second. Of this theory Whewell
wrote in 1857 that Optics had "reached her grand generalisation
in a few years by sagacious and happy speculations." But it was
not thus that a halting-place was gained. For there succeeded the
discoveries of Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, Hertz, and other great
physicists who used the old theory merely as a foundation for a
superstructure of unsuspected and wondrous proportions. The
theory of electrons came to the front, and the phenomena of
light are being linked on to those of electricity. The phenomena
of electricity, again, are being linked on to those of life. And
thus, as ever where our deepest intuitions are concerned, the
nature-mystic finds himself in harmony with and abreast of the
latest developments of modern knowledge.

At the dawn of human thought light and life were dimly but
persistently felt to be akin, if not identical. And now we know it
was a deep prompting of mother nature which caused men to
give to their divine beings the simple name--"the Bright Ones."



"The broad open eye of the solitary sky."

Charles Lamb, with his native sensitiveness, considered this line
to be too terrible for art. Its suggestion of "the irresponsive
blankness of the universe" was for him too naked and poignant.
And yet, in certain of his aspects, nature is undoubtedly
irresponsive to man--aloof from his affairs--more especially in
her pageantry of the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars.
But this feeling of aloofness is not constant, nor even normal, as
witness the exquisite lines in Peter Bell:

    "At noon, when by the forest's edge
    He lay beneath the branches high,
    The soft blue sky did never melt
    Into his heart--he never felt
    The witchery of the soft blue sky!"

Whether in its friendly or its alien aspects, the widespread,
all-embracing arch of the heavens has, in all times and climes,
profoundly influenced human thought, more particularly so in
lands where the sky is clear and bright and the horizons
extended. Its effect, in flat and desert regions, on the
development of monotheistic beliefs was noted in an early
chapter. In India it has played the chiefest part in fostering
abstract universalism and the conception of a pantheistic
Absolute, and has tempted men to views which leave no room
for human initiative nor for belief in objective reality. And
when we recognise the wide and deep influence exerted by
Buddhism upon ethics and metaphysics ancient and modern, we
realise that the dome of heaven has proved itself a mystic force
of the first rank.

We must be on our guard, however, lest we exaggerate this
pantheistic or universalistic influence. We have a sufficient
corrective in the development of Dyaus, an ancient god of the
sky, who became, in one of his later forms, the Greek Zeus--that
is to say, a king of gods as well as of men--the ruler of
Olympus--the supreme member of a polytheistic community.
And this development is but representative of a large class
which have proceeded on similar lines--the class which come to
their own in the concept of a Heaven-Father. For example,
Tylor shows that, in the religion of the North American Indians,
"the Heaven-god displays perfectly the gradual blending of the
material sky itself with its personal deity"; and that the Chinese
Tien, Heaven, the highest deity of the state religion, underwent
a like theologic development. The mystic influence remains in
Christianity, as witness Keble:

    "The glorious sky embracing all
    Is like the Maker's love."

It may be affirmed, then, without fear of contradiction, that the
elemental phenomena of the sky, overarching all with its unlimited
span, has provided men with the idea of an all-embracing
deity--this idea, among others, is immanent there and awaits
still further development.

Awaits further development--for the mystic influences persist
and suggest deeper interpretations. Browning, though not an
avowed nature-mystic, felt the thrill and the emotion of the sky.

    "The morn has enterprise, deep quiet droops
    With evening, triumph takes the sunset hour."

As for the emotional value of the universal span of the sky, its
power to tranquillise by a sense of vast harmony and unity,
Christina Rossetti knew it:

    "Heaven o'erarches you and me,
        And all earth's gardens and her graves.
    Look up with me, until we see
    The day break and the shadows flee.
    What though to-night wrecks you and me
        If so to-morrow saves?"

Here, as is almost inevitable, the thought of the expanse is
associated with the alternate coming on of darkness and the
breaking of the dawn; but the change and alternation gains its
unity and ultimate significance from the all-inclusiveness of the
sky as the abiding element.

Walt Whitman brings out another aspect of this subtle but
powerful influence. He addresses the sky: "Hast Thou, pellucid,
in Thy azure depths, medicine for case like mine? (Ah, the
physical shatter and troubled spirit of me the last three years.)
And dost Thou subtly, mystically now drip it through the air
invisibly upon me?"

In similar mood Jefferies writes: "I turned to the blue heaven
over, gazing into its depth, inhaling its exquisite colour and
sweetness. The rich blue of the unattainable flower of the sky
drew my soul towards it, and there it rested, for pure colour is
rest of heart."

And thus "the witchery of the soft blue sky" launches us
naturally into the subject of the sky as colour; and not of blue
only, but of that vast range of hues and gradations which
display their beauty and their glory in the four quarters of
heaven during each move onwards of the earth from sunrise to
sunrise. Tennyson's description is vivid and splendid. The
shipwrecked Enoch Arden is waiting for a sail, and sees

            "Every day
    The sunrise broken into scarlet shafts
    Among the palms and ferns and precipices;
    The blaze upon the waters to the east;
    The blaze upon his island overhead;
    The blaze upon the waters to the west;
    Then the great stars that globed themselves in Heaven,
    The hollower-bellowing ocean, and again
    The scarlet shafts of sunrise."

But of special interest here is the fact that the blue of the vault
is never mentioned--only the scarlet shafts of sunrise and the
blaze. Whether this omission was intentional or not, may be

But it brings to mind the strange fact that the perception and
naming of this blue are comparatively recent acquirements. In
the old hymns of the Rigveda the chariot of the sun is described
as glowing with varied colour, and its horses as gold-like or
beaming with sevenfold hues; but although there was a word for
the blue of the sea and for indigo dye, this word is never applied
to the brightness of the sunlit vault. So, still more strangely, we
find that notwithstanding the laughing blue of the Greek sky,
old Homer never calls it blue! He has his rosy-fingered dawn,
the parallel of Tennyson's scarlet shafts; but the daylight sky
seems to have been for him as for Enoch Arden, a "blaze." Nor
is the omission supplied in the later classical literature; and the
older Greek writers on science use such epithets as "air-coloured,"
as substitutes for more specific terms. A German scholar
who has examined the ancient writings of the Chinese claims
for them priority in the recognition of the blue of the sky,
and points out that in the Schi-king, a collection of songs from
about 1709 to 618 B.C., the sky is called the vaulted blue, as in
the more modern language it is called the reigning blue.

Delitzsch, from whom much of what is just stated has been
derived (as also from Gladstone's paper on Homer's colour-sense)
does not find the blue of the sky recognised in Europe earlier
than the oldest Latin poets of the third century B.C., who
use _caerulus_ of the sky, and henceforth this epithet takes its
place in literature, Pagan and Christian. And the appreciation of
the heaven-colour develops apace until we have Wordsworth's
"Witchery of the soft blue sky."

The explanation of this late development is a problem of much
interest from the point of view of the physiologist and the
psychologist, in its bearing on the history of the special senses.
It would not be safe to say that the colour was not perceived, in
a somewhat loose sense of that term, but rather that it was not
consciously distinguished. As with the child, so with primitive
man, the strong sensations are the first to be definitely
apprehended--the glow of flame, the scarlet and crimson of
dawn and sunset, the gold of the sun and moon and stars. Red
and yellow were the first to assert themselves; and the two are
significantly combined in Homer's descriptions of the dawn--the
yellow of the crocus as a garment, and the flush of the rose for
the fingered rays.

We must not imagine, however, that the failure to distinguish
the hues and grades of blue argued any lack of appreciation of
the quality of pure, translucent depth which characterises the
clear sunlit sky. A striking proof to the contrary is found in a
description in the book of Exodus, where a vision of God is
described, and where we read that  under His feet was as it were
a work of transparent sapphire, and as it were the body of
heaven in its clearness." We recall also the exquisite expression,
"the clear shining after rain."

The nature-mystic, therefore, need not eliminate the blue of the
vault, the brightness of the sky, as an influence in moulding
man's spiritual nature in the early days. It remains true,
however, that the delicate discrimination of colour is a
comparatively recent acquirement, and that thus the modern
world has gained a new wealth of phenomena in the sphere of
direct sensation. And this recently acquired subtlety of
colour-sense is bound to bring with it a corresponding wealth of
mystical intuition. The older attempts at colour symbolism point
the way--the red of blood, the crimson of flame, the white of the
lily, the blush of the rose, the gleam of steel or silver, the glow
of gold, the green of the mantle worn by mother-earth, all these,
and numberless others have played their part as subtle mystic
influences. But there is more and better yet to come. Milton
could write:

    "O welcome pure-eyed Faith, white-handed Hope,
    Thou hovering angel, girt with golden wings!"

As tints, so significances, more delicate shall be won by man's
soul in contact with nature. For colour is as varied as love.
"Colour" (says Ruskin) "is the type of love. Hence it is
especially connected with the blossoming of the earth, and with
its fruits; also with the spring and fall of the leaf, and with the
morning and evening of the day, in order to show the waiting of
love about the birth and death of man."



The contention of the nature-mystic is that man can enter into
direct communion with the objects in his physical environment,
inasmuch as they are akin to himself in their essential nature.
Now Goethe says:

    "The stars excite no craving,
    One is happy simply in their glory."

And Schopenhauer asks why the sight of the full moon has
upon us an influence so soothing and elevating. His explanation
is in harmony with the general trend of his philosophical
doctrine. He says that the moon has so little relation to our
personal concerns that it is not an object of willing. We are
content to contemplate her in passive receptivity. We have here
a problem which is well worthy of discussion. Let us bring the
matter to the test of actual experience as embodied in modern
prose and poetry. For while it goes without saying that the
qualities of physical remoteness, elevation, and vastness, have
their own peculiar mystical power, and that they are especially
manifested in the phenomena of the starry heaven, there is a
danger of emphasising this fact to the detriment of the basic
principle of Nature Mysticism. In order to bring the discussion
within reasonable limits, let it be confined to Schopenhauer's

    "That orbed maiden, with white fire laden,
    Whom mortals call the moon."

Is it true that there is, alongside of the feeling of her remoteness,
none of the active emotion which essential kinship would lead
us to anticipate?

Appeal might at once be made to the proverbial "crying for the
moon"; and there would be more in the appeal than might
appear at first sight. For there comes at once into mind the
sublimination of this longing in the lovely myth of Endymion
which so powerfully affected Keats, and fascinated even
Browning. Appeal might also be made to the sweet naturalism
of St. Francis with his endearing name, "Our sister, the Moon."

There is, moreover, the enormous mass of magical and
superstitious lore which gives the moon a very practical and
direct influence over human affairs. This may be ruled out as
not based on facts; but it remains as an evidence of a sense of
kinship of a practical kind. And if this fails, there is the teaching
of modern science. We now know that the tides are evidence of
the moon's never-ceasing interposition in terrestrial affairs, and
that, apart from her functions as a light-giver, innumerable
human happenings are dependent on her motion and position.
There is even a theory that she is part and parcel of the earth
itself, having been torn out of the bed of the Pacific. And, in any
case, her surface has been explored, so far as it is turned to us,
and, with a marvellous accuracy of detail, mapped out, and
named. Science, then, while measuring her distance, certainly
does not increase the sense of our alienation from her.

But let us turn, as proposed, to the writings of modern seers and
interpreters. See how Keats associates the moon with the
humblest and most homely things of earth:

    "Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
    From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
    Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
    For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
    With the green world they live in."

There is no sense of a gap here, in passing from heaven to earth.
In a strain of stronger emotion, he makes Endymion speak:

    "Lo! from opening clouds, I saw emerge
    The loveliest moon that ever silvered o'er
    A shell from Neptune's goblet; she did soar
    So passionately bright, my dazzled soul
    Commingling with her argent spheres did roll
    Through clear and cloudy."

There is little of Schopenhauer's passive and contemplative
receptivity here! Rather a mingling of being in a sweep through

Catullus sang how that:

    "Near the Delian olive-tree Latonia gave thy life to thee
    That thou shouldst be for ever queen
    Of mountains and of forests green;
    Of every deep glen's mystery;
    Of all streams in their melody."

And Wordsworth, in fullest sympathy enforces the old-world
imaginings. He dwells on the homely aspect:

    "Wanderer! that stoop'st so low, and com'st so near
    To human life's unsettled atmosphere;
    Who lov'st with Night and Silence to partake,
    So might it seem, the cares of them that wake;
    And through the cottage-lattice softly peeping,
    Dost shield from harm the humblest of the sleeping"--

And links on these friendly thoughts to the mythical spirit of the

            "well might that fair face
    And all those attributes of modest grace,
    In days when Fancy wrought unchecked by fear,
    Down to the green fields fetch thee from thy sphere,
    To sit in leafy woods by fountains clear."

Or take the famous Homeric simile so finely translated by

    "As when in Heaven the stars above the moon
    Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
    And every height comes out, and jutting peak
    And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
    Break open to their highest, and all the stars
    Shine, and the shepherd gladdens in his heart."

The stars are here associated with the moon--so much the better
for the principle now defended.

Compare this with some lines from Goethe himself--the Goethe
who would persuade us that the stars excite no craving, and that
we are happy simply in their glory. He thus addresses the

    "Bush and vale thou fill'st again
        With thy misty ray
    And my spirit's heavy chain
        Castest far away.
    Thou dost o'er my fields extend
        Thy sweet soothing eye,
    Watching, like a gentle friend,
        O'er my destiny."

Browning felt the charm of a lambent moon:

    "Voluptuous transport rises with the corn
    Beneath a warm moon like a happy face."

So with an English picture from Kirke White:

        "Moon of harvest, herald mild
        Of plenty, rustic labour's child,
        Hail! O hail! I greet thy beam,
        As soft it trembles o'er the stream,
        And gilds the straw-thatched hamlet wide,
        Where Innocence and Peace reside;
    'Tis thou that gladd'st with joy the rustic throng,
    Promptest the tripping dance, th' exhilarating song."

To emphasise this aspect is not to forget that there is another.
Wordsworth experienced both types of emotion. Time, he sings:

            "that frowns
    In her destructive flight on earthly crowns,
    Spares thy cold splendour; still those far-shot beams
    Tremble on dancing waves and rippling streams
    With stainless touch, as chaste as when thy praise
    Was sung by Virgin-choirs in festal lays."

But abundant evidence is available to prove that the position
taken by Goethe and Schopenhauer may easily lead to a loss of
true perspective. The moon and stars, though remote, are also
near: though they start trains of passive and contemplative
thought, they also stimulate active emotions and even
passionate yearnings. What more passionate than Shelley?

    "The desire of the moth for the star,
        Of the night for the morrow,
    The devotion to something afar
        From the sphere of our sorrow."

There do not seem to be many poets who have brought into
clear antithesis and relief this dual aspect of the mystic
influence of the heavenly bodies. But it definitely arrested the
imagination and thought of Clough, whose poem, "Selene,"
deals wholly with this theme. It is too long for quotation here,
though the whole of it would be admirably in place. Enough is
given to show its general drift. The Earth addresses the Moon:

    "My beloved, is it nothing
    Though we meet not, neither can,
    That I see thee, and thou me,
    That we see and see we see,
    When I see I also feel thee;
    Is it nothing, my beloved?
    . . .
    O cruel, cruel lot, still thou rollest, stayest not,
    Lookest onward, look'st before,
    Yet I follow evermore.
    Cruel, cruel, didst thou only
    Feel as I feel evermore,
    A force, though in, not of me,
    Drawing inward, in, in, in,
    Yea, thou shalt though, ere all endeth,
    Thou shalt feel me closer, closer,
    My beloved!
    . . .
    The inevitable motion
    Bears us both upon its line
    Together, you as me,
    Together and asunder,
    Evermore. It so must be."

It behoves the nature-mystic, then, to be wholehearted in
defence of his master principle. _Homo sum, et humani a me nil
alienum puto_--so said Terence. The nature-mystic adopts and
expands his dictum. He substitutes _mundani_ for _humani_,
and includes in his _mundus_, as did the Latins, and as did the
Greeks in their _cosmos_, not only the things of earth but the
expanse of heaven.



And thus the three great nature-philosophers of the old world,
Thales, Anaximenes, and Heracleitus, have been our guides, so
to speak, in surveying the most striking phenomena of water,
air, and fire. The fourth member of the ancient group of
"elements" has received but incidental treatment. Obviously it
could hardly be otherwise, especially within the limits which
such a study as this imposes. The varied and wondrous forms of
vegetable and animal life have likewise made but brief and
transient appearances; but this omission has been due to a
definite intention expressed at the outset. It may nevertheless be
well, before concluding, to cast a glance over the rich provinces
which still lie open to the nature-mystic for further discovery
and research.

The more striking features of the landscape have always
arrested attention and stimulated the mystic sense. The peculiar
influence of heights has been noted at an earlier stage, though
but cursorily. Much might be said of the enormous effect of
mountain scenery. The most direct form of nature-feeling finds
expression in Scott and Byron; and the description of crags,
ravines, peaks and gorges, bulks largely in their writings.
Typical are these lines from "Manfred":

        "Ye crags upon whose extreme edge
    I stand, and on the torrent's brink beneath
    Behold the tall pines dwindled as to shrubs
    In dizziness of distance."

or Shelley with his

            "Eagle-baffling mountain
    Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured, without herb,
    Insect, or beast, or shape, or sound of life."

Indeed there are few poets, even those who are chiefly
concerned with man and his doings, who do not often turn to
mountain scenery at least for similes. And it could not be
otherwise; for the immanent ideas here manifested are
self-assertive in character and specially rich in number and
variety. As it has been well expressed, nature's pulse here seems
to beat more quickly. In olden days the high places of the earth
associated themselves with myths of gods and Titans. Fully
representative of the world of to-day, Tennyson asks:

    "Hast thou no voice, O Peak,
        That standest high above all?"

And his answer turns on the mystic bonds that bind the deep
and the height into a cycle of interdependent activities.

    "The deep has power on the height,
        And the height has power on the deep.
    A deep below the deep
        And a height beyond the height!
    Our hearing is not hearing,
        And our seeing is not sight."

Or Morris gives the mysticism a more personal turn:

    "Oh, snows so pure! oh, peaks so high!
    I lift to you a hopeless eye,
    I see your icy ramparts drawn
    Between the sleepers and the dawn;
    I see you when the sun has set
    Flush with the dying daylight yet.
    . . .
    Oh, snows so pure! oh, peaks so high!
    I shall not reach you till I die."

And now that modern geology is revealing to us more and more
of the origin and structure of the mountain ranges of the world,
and telling us more and more of the wondrous materials which
go to their building, the field for mysticism is being widely

Different, but hardly less powerful, is the influence of hill
scenery--whether they

            "in the distance lie
    Blue and yielding as the sky,"

or whether their gentle slopes are climbed and their delicate
beauties seen close at hand. As Ruskin has averred, even the
simplest rise can suggest the mountain; but it also has a mystic
charm of its own, complementary to that of the sheltered vale,
which is exquisite alike in its natural simplicity, and in its
response to the labours of man, where some

            "kneeling hamlet drains
    The chalice of the grapes of God."

But though the influence of mountains, hills, ravines, and vales,
is obvious even to the superficial enquirer, it should not obscure
for us the very real, if less potent influence of lowlands, plains,
and deserts. More especially subtle in its effect upon the spirit
of man, is the loneliness of wildernesses, the prairies, the
pampas, the tundras, the Saharas. The Greek Pan was essentially
a god of the wild, unploughed surfaces of the earth. Hence,
also, the frequent conjunction of the wilderness and silent
meditation and ascetic discipline. Schopenhauer suggests
that one secret of the spell of mountain scenery is the
permanence of the sky-line. Shall we say that one secret of the
solitary place is the turning in of the human spirit upon itself
because of the sameness of the permanent sky-line?

The effect of scenery upon religion was treated of in illustration
of the general principle of Nature Mysticism--the kinship of
man and his physical environment. No less marked has been the
effect of scenery upon art. The theme is now somewhat well
worn, but its true significance is seldom apprehended. For if art
is concerned with the realm of the ideal, or rather, perhaps, with
the real in its more ideal aspects, then it follows that whatever
has an influence on art has an influence on the spiritual
development of the people among whom any particular mode or
school of art may-establish itself. An interesting phase of such
influence is found in Geikie's suggestion as to the presence of
the humorous element in the myths and legends of northern
Europe. "The grotesque contours" (he says) "of many craggy
slopes where, in the upstanding pinnacles of naked rock, an
active imagination sees forms of men and of animals in endless
whimsical repetitions, may sometimes have suggested the
particular form of the ludicrous which appears in the popular
legend. But the natural instinct of humour which saw physical
features in a comic light, and threw a playful human interest
over the whole face of nature, was a distinctively. Teutonic
characteristic." There opens out here an unexplored region for
original research. Taking the nature-mystic's mode of
experience as a basis for enquiry, how far is the comic a purely
subjective affair, concerned only, as Bergson contends, with
man, and only found in external phenomena by virtue of their
reflecting his affairs; or how far has it a place of its own in the
universe at large?

To conclude this slight sketch of the Nature Mysticism of the
solid earth, let us bring together an ancient and a recent
expression of the emotion these purely terrestrial phenomena
can arouse. There is one of the Homeric hymns which is
addressed to "the Earth, Mother of All." Its beginning and its
ending are as follows (in Shelley's translation):

    "O universal mother, who dost keep
    From everlasting thy foundations deep,
    Eldest of things, Great Earth, I sing of thee.
    . . .
    Mother of gods, thou wife of starry Heaven,
    Farewell! be thou propitious."

Is there not a living continuity between the emotional element
in that grand old hymn and the strong full modern sentiment in
this concluding stanza of Brown's "Alma Mater"?

    "O mother Earth, by the bright sky above thee,
    I love thee, O, I love thee!
    So let me leave thee never,
    But cling to thee for ever,
    And hover round thy mountains,
    And flutter round thy fountains,
        And pry into thy roses fresh and red;
    And blush in all thy blushes,
    And flush in all thy flushes,
    And watch when thou art sleeping,
    And weep when thou art weeping,
    And be carried with thy motion,
    As the rivers and the ocean,
    As the great rocks and the trees are--
    O mother, this were glorious life,
        This were not to be dead.
    O mother Earth, by the bright sky above thee,
    I love thee, O, I love thee! "



The seasons and the months, especially those of the temperate
zones--how saturated with mysticism! The wealth of illustration
is so abounding that choice is wellnigh paralysed. Poets and
nature lovers are never weary of drawing on its inexhaustible
supplies. Take these verses from Tennyson's "Early Spring":

    "Opens a door in Heaven;
        From skies of glass
    A Jacob's ladder falls
        On greening grass,
    And o'er the mountain-walls
        Young angels pass.

    For now the Heavenly Power
        Makes all things new
    And thaws the cold and fills
        The flower with dew;
    The blackbirds have their wills,
        The poets too."

Or take these exultant lines from Coventry Patmore's
"Revulsion" Canto:

    "'Twas when the spousal time of May
        Hangs all the hedge with bridal wreaths,
    And air's so sweet the bosom gay
        Gives thanks for every breath it breathes;
    When like to like is gladly moved,
        And each thing joins in Spring's refrain,
    'Let those love now who never loved;
        Let those who have loved, love again.'"

Recall the poems that celebrate in endless chorus the emotions
stirred by the pomp and glory of the summer; by the fruitfulness
or sadness of the mellow autumn; by the keen exhilaration or
the frozen grip of winter. Some poets, like Blake, have written
special odes or sonnets on all the four; some like Keats, in his
"Ode to Autumn," have lavished their most consummate art on
the season which most appealed to them. Each month, too, has
its bards; its special group of qualities and the sentiments they
stimulate. Truly the heart of the nature-mystic rejoices as he
reflects on the inexhaustibility of material and of significance
here presented!

And what of the flowers? Once again the theme is inexhaustible.
The poets vie with one another in their efforts to give
to even the humblest flowers their emotional and mystic
setting. Some of the loveliest of the old-world myths are busied
with accounting for the form or colour of the flowers.
Wordsworth's Daffodils, Burns's Daisy, Tennyson's "Flower in
the Crannied Wall," these are but fair blooms in a full and
dazzling cluster. Flowers (said a certain divine) are the sweetest
things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into. The
nature-mystic thankfully acknowledges the sweetness, but he questions
the absence of the soul! The degree of individuality is matter for
grave debate; but to assume its absence is to place oneself out of
focus for gaining true and living insight into nature's being.
How much more deep-founded is Wordsworth's faith "that
every flower enjoys the air it breathes."

Let us bring this matter to the test in regard to the big brothers
of the flowers--the trees. Passing by the ample range of striking
and beautiful myths and legends (packed as many of them are
with mystic meaning), let us turn to the expressions of personal
feeling which the literature of various ages provides in
abundance--limiting the view to certain typical examples. The
Teutonic myth of the World-tree was dealt with fully in the
chapter on Subterranean Waters. But it is well to mention it now
in connection with the far-extended group of myths which
centre in the idea of a tree of life, which preserved their vitality
in changing forms, and which even appear in Dante in his
account of the mystical marriage under the withered tree. Virgil
was a lover of trees; the glade and the forest appealed to him by
the same magic of suggested life as that which works on the
modern poet or nature-lover.

It is generally supposed that, in England, the loving insight of
the nature-mystic was practically unknown until Collins,
Thomson, and Crabbe led the way for the triumph of the Lake

This may be true for many natural objects--but it is not true for
all. How fresh these lines from an address to his muse by

    "By the murmur of a spring,
    Or the least bough's rustelling;
    By a daisy whose leaves spread,
    Shut when Titan goes to bed;
    Or a shady bush or tree,--
    She could more infuse in me
    Than all Nature's beauties can
    In some other wiser man."

Surely this is the voice of Wordsworth in Tudor phraseology.
Still more startling is this passage from Marvell, out of the
midst of the Commonwealth days: so remarkable is its Nature
Mysticism and its Wordsworthian feeling and insight, that it
must be given without curtailment. It occurs in the poem on the

    "Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
    Withdraws into its happiness;
    The mind, that ocean where each kind
    Does straight its own resemblance find;
    Yet it creates, transcending these,
    Far other worlds, and other seas,
    Annihilating all that's made
    To a green thought in a green shade,
    Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
    Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
    Casting the body's vest aside,
    My soul into the boughs does glide:
    There, like a bird, it sits and sings,
    Then whets and combs its silver wings,
    And, till prepared for longer flight,
    Waves in its plumes the various light."

Every line of this extract is worthy of close study--not only for
its intrinsic beauty, but for its evidence of the working of the
immanent ideas, and the vivid sense of kinship with tree life.
The two lines

    "Annihilating all that's made
    To a green thought in a green shade,"

are justly famous. But more significant are the three less known

    "Casting the body's vest aside
    My soul into the boughs does glide:
    There like a bird it sits and sings."

Did Wordsworth, or Tennyson, or Shelley, ever give token of a
more vivid sense of kinship with the life of the tree? Is it not
palpable that the same essential form of intuitive experience is
struggling in each and all of these poets to find some fitting
expression? For Marvell, as for Wordsworth,

    "The soft eye-music of slow-waving boughs"

seemed to fluctuate with an interior life and to call for joyous

Or, finally, study these passages from Walt Whitman, the sturdy
Westerner; his feeling for the mystic impulses from tree life is
exceptional, if not in its intensity, at any rate in his
determination to give it utterance. If trees do not talk, he says,
they certainly manage it "as well as most speaking, writing,
poetry, sermons--or rather they do a great deal better. I should
say indeed that those old dryad reminiscences are quite as true
as any, and profounder than most, reminiscences we get."
Farther on, speaking of evening lights and shades on foliage
grass, he says, "In the revealings of such light, such exceptional
hour, such mood, one does not wonder at the old story fables
(indeed, why fables?) of people falling into love-sickness with
trees, seiz'd ecstatic with the mystic realism of the resistless
silent strength in them--strength which, after all, is perhaps the
last, completest, highest beauty." In another place, he says, "I
hold on boughs or slender trees caressingly there in the sun and
shade, wrestle with their inmost stalwartness--and _know_ the
virtue thereof passes from them into me. (Or maybe we
interchange--maybe the trees are more aware of it all than I ever
thought.)" And once again, speaking of a yellow poplar tree,
"How strong, vital, enduring! How dumbly eloquent! What
suggestions of imperturbability and _being_, as against the
human trait of _seeming_. Then the qualities, almost emotional,
palpably artistic, heroic, of a tree; so innocent and harmless, yet
so savage. It _is_, yet says nothing. How it rebukes by its tough
and equable serenity all weathers." All this is unconventional!
So much the better! The identity of underlying sentiment comes
out the more clearly. Trees are not only alive (and yet how
much that fact alone contains!) but they have a character, an
individuality of their own; they can speak directly to the heart
and soul of man, and man can sympathise with them.

As for the animal world in the widest sense, it is plain that its
study, from the mystical point of view, forms a department to
itself. Granted that the transition from the mineral to the
organism is gradual, and that from the vegetable to the animal
still more gradual, the broad fact remains that, when we reach
the higher forms of the realm of living matter, we definitely
recognise many of the characteristics which are found in the
human soul--will, emotion, impulse, even intellectual activities.
Not only primitive man, but those also who are often far
advanced in mental development, attribute souls to animals, and
find it difficult to believe otherwise--as witness the totemistic
systems followed by theories of metempsychosis. And
Darwinism, far from destroying these old ideas, has simply
furnished a scientific basis for a new totemism.

As was remarked at the outset, this subject of what we may call
Animal Mysticism, lies outside our present province.
Nevertheless, a word or two showing how the physical, the
vegetable, and the animal are linked together in living mystical
union may fittingly bring this chapter to a close. Many of our
deepest and most original thinkers are feeling their way to this
larger Mysticism. Here are two examples taken almost at
random. Anatole France, in one of the many charming episodes
which render his story of the old savant, Sylvestre Bonnard, at
once so touching and so philosophic, takes his old hero under
the shade of some young oaks to meditate on the nature of the
soul and the destiny of man. The narrative proceeds thus: "Une
abeille, dont le corsage brun brillait au soleil comme une armure
de vieil or, vint se poser sur une fleur de mauve d'une sombre
richesse et bien ouverte sur sa tige touffue. Ce n'etait
certainement pas la premiere fois que je voyais un spectacle si
commun, mais c'etait la premiere que je le voyais avec une
curiosite si affectueuse et si intelligente. Je reconnus qu'il y
avait entre l'insecte et la fleur toutes sortes de sympathies et
mille rapports ingenieux que je n'avais pas soupconnes jusque
la. L'insecte, rassasie de nectar, s'elanca en ligne hardie. Je me
relevai du mieux que je pus, et me rajustai sur mes jambes--
Adieu, dis-je a la fleur et a l'abeille. Adieu. Puisse-je vivre
encore le temps de deviner le secret de vos harmonies. . . .
Combien le vieux mythe d'Antee est plein de sens! J'ai touche la
terre et je suis un nouvel homme, et voici qu'a soixante-dix ans
de nouvelles curiosites naissent dans mon ame comme on voit
des rejetons s'elancer du tronc creux d'un vieux saule."

"May I live long enough to solve the secret of your harmonies!"
There is the spirit of the true nature-mystic! But how will it be
solved? By intuition first--if ever the intellect does seize the
secret, it will be on the basis of intuition. It is with this
conviction in his mind that Maeterlinck meditates on the same
theme as that which arrested Anatole France. "Who shall tell us,
oh, little people (the bees), that are so profoundly in earnest,
that have fed on the warmth and the light and on nature's purest,
the soul of the flowers--wherein matter for once seems to smile
and put forth its most wistful effort towards beauty and
happiness--who shall tell us what problems you have resolved,
but we not yet; what certitudes you have acquired, that we have
still to conquer? And if you have truly resolved these problems,
acquired these certitudes, by the aid of some blind and primitive
impulse and not through the intellect, then to what enigma,
more insoluble still, are you not urging us on?"

Such is the leaven that is working in much of the foremost
thinking of our time. The reign of materialism is passing--that
of mysticism waxing in imperative insistence and extent of
sway. And the heart of the nature-mystic rejoices to know that
his master-principle of kinship universal is coming to its own.
Anatole France and Maeterlinck are striving to seize on the
harmonies between the physical, the vegetable, and the animal
spheres--the air and sunshine, the flowers, and the bees; add the
moral and spiritual harmonies, and Mysticism stands complete--
it strives to read the secret of existence as a whole, of the "_elan
vital_" in this or any other world.



The programme laid down in the introductory chapter has been
fulfilled. There has been no attempt to make any single section,
much less the study as a whole, a complete or exhaustive
exposition of its subject matter. The purpose throughout has
been to bring to light the fundamental principles of Nature
Mysticism, to consider the validity of the main criticisms to
which they are subjected, and to illustrate some of their most
typical applications. A formal summary of the conclusions
reached would be tedious and unnecessary. But it may be well
to show that even when brought to the tests imposed by the
reigning Pragmatism, the nature-mystic can justify his existence
and can proselytise with a good conscience.

"Back to the country"--a cry often heard, though generally with
a significance almost wholly economic, or at any rate utilitarian.
It gives expression to the growing conviction that the life of
great cities is too artificial and specialised to permit of a healthy
all-round development of their populations. From the eugenic
point of view, physique is lowered. From the economic point of
view, large areas are deprived of their healthy independence by
the disturbance of the balance of production as between town
and country. Each of these considerations is evidently of
sufficient seriousness to arouse widespread apprehension.

But there is the nature-mystic's view of the situation which,
when really attained, is seen to be of no less importance, though
it is too often left in comparative obscurity. It is easily
approached from the purely aesthetic side. The city may
develop a quick and precocious intelligence, but it is at the cost
of eliminating a rich range of experiences which should be the
heritage of all normal human beings. In the city, the mind tends
to be immersed in a restricted and specialised round of duties
and pleasures, and loses "natural" tone. While, on the one hand,
there is over-stimulation of certain modes of sensation, others
are largely or wholly atrophied. The finest susceptibilities
decay. The eye and ear, the most delicate avenues of the soul,
are deprived of their native stimulants. In short, city conditions
unduly inhibit the natural development of many elements of the
higher self.

The evils thus briefly touched upon are undoubtedly forcing
themselves more and more into notice, and are evoking much
philanthropic thought and activity. They are more especially
bewailed by many who, themselves lovers of art and lovers of
nature, keenly appreciate the loss sustained, and the danger
incurred. Ruskin's teachings have affected the views and lives
of thousands who have never read his books. Those who have
penetrated most deeply into the play of aesthetic cause and
effect, well know that the very existence of truly great and
creative art is at stake. Science, literature, politics, and a
thousand specialised distractions tend to "saturate our limited
attention," and to absorb our energies, to the detriment of our
feeling for nature and of our enjoyment of her beauties. And yet
it is only by keeping in living touch with nature that fine art can
renew its inspiration or scale the heights.

There is, of course, the counter peril of an unhealthy
aestheticism, marked by an assumption of susceptibility which
is insufferable. Feeling, ostensibly expended upon external
beauty, can become an odious form of self-admiration; and
priggishness is the least of the diseases that will ensue. For with
the loss of spontaneity and freshness in the feeling there goes
mortification of the feeling itself. Still, this danger is not
general, and is therefore less noteworthy. It may safely be left to
the healing remedies instinctively applied by common sense.

The nature-mystic, however, does not linger long on the merely
aesthetic plane. He goes deeper down to the heart of things, and
holds that to lose touch with nature is to lose touch with Reality
as manifested in nature. It is sad, he declares, to miss the pure
enjoyment of forms and colours, of sounds and scents; it is
sadder to miss the experience of communing with the spirit
embodied in these external phenomena. For it is not mere lack
of education of the senses that must then be lamented (though
that is lack enough!) but the stunting of the soul-life that ensues
on divorce from nature, and from the great store of primal and
fundamental ideas which are immanent therein. The loss may
thus become, not simply sad, but tragic.

And the weightiness of these considerations is not diminished
when we relate them to the special needs of the day. Our time is
one of deep unrest--showing itself in religion and ethics, in
literature and art, in politics and economics. Unrest manifests
itself in what we have learnt to call "the social question." How
shall civilisation regain and increase its healthy restfulness?
Unless a cure be found, there will be disaster ahead. Democracy
has brought with it great hopes; it also stirs unwonted fears. The
people at large must be lifted on to a higher plane of living; they
must win for themselves wider horizons; they must kindle their
imaginations, and allow play to their non-egoistic and nobler
emotions. How better secure these ends than by bringing "the
masses" into touch with the elemental forces and phenomena
of nature? "Democracy" (says Walt Whitman) "most of all
affiliates with the open air, is sunny and hardy and sane only
with Nature--just as much as Art is. Something is required to
temper both--to check them, restrain them from excess,
morbidity. . . . I conceive of no flourishing and heroic elements
of Democracy . . . without the Nature element forming a main
part--to be its health-element and beauty-element--to really
underlie the whole politics, sanity, religion, and art of the New
World." Yes, converse with Nature--even the simplest form of
converse--has a steadying effect, and brings that kind of quiet
happiness which has for its companions good-will and delicate
sympathy. To sever oneself from such converse is to induce
selfishness, boorishness (veneered or un-veneered), and
inhumanity. The influence of nature means development; the
lack of that influence means revolution.

Hence Wordsworth's invitation has its social, as well as its
individual bearings:

    "Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books,
    Or surely you'll grow double!
    . . .
    One impulse from a vernal wood
    May teach you more of man,
    Of moral evil and of good,
    Than all the sages can.

    Sweet is the lore which
    Nature brings;
    Our meddling intellect
    Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things
    We murder to dissect.

    Enough of Science and of Art;
    Close up those barren leaves;
    Come forth and bring with you a heart
    That watches and receives."

So Emerson, of the man who can yield himself to nature's
influences. "And this is the reward: that the ideal shall be real
to thee, and the impressions of the actual world shall fall like
summer rain, copious but not troublesome, to thy invulnerable
essence." So, once again, Matthew Arnold in his striking
sonnet, "Quiet Work":

    "One lesson, Nature, let me learn of thee,
    One lesson which in every wind is blown,
    One lesson of two duties kept at one
    Though the loud world proclaim their enmity--
    Of toil unsevered from tranquillity,
    Of labour that in lasting fruit outgrows
    Far noisier schemes, accomplished in repose,
    Too great for haste, too high for rivalry.
    Yes, while on earth a thousand discords ring,
    Man's senseless uproar mingling with his toil,
    Still do thy quiet ministers move on,
    Their glorious tasks in silence perfecting:
    Still working, blaming still our vain turmoil,
    Labourers that shall not fail when man is gone."

It is in nature, then, and in her subtle but potent workings on the
human soul that we shall find at least one antidote for the undue
and portentous tension of our day. To say this is not to
depreciate science, but to put it in its rightful setting. Nor is it
to depreciate culture, but to bring it into due perspective, and to
vitalise it. Nor is it to depreciate art, but to endow it with glow,
with variety, with loyalty to truth.

According to Pope, the proper study of mankind is man. How
shallow, how harmful such a dictum! Contrast Kant's deeper
insight. "Two things fill me with awe--the starry heaven
without, and the moral law within." That famous apophthegm
leads us nearer to the saving truth. For it contemplates man, not
in his isolation, but as placed in a marvellous physical
environment: to understand one you must understand the other
also. Add the thought expressed in the fundamental principle of
Nature Mysticism--the thought that nature is spiritually akin to
ourselves--and we see that the proper study of mankind is
human nature as a part of a living whole.

But the nature-mystic is not content to "study." He desires to
hold communion with the spirit and the life which he feels and
knows to be manifested in external nature. For him there is no
such thing as "brute" matter, nor even such a thing as "mere"
beauty. He hears deep calling unto deep--the life within to the
life without--and he responds.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Nature Mysticism, by J. Edward Mercer


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